Living, Learning & Loving La Vida Nueva

Saturday, June 17, 2017

One Down, Lots to Go!

Yesterday Kyle completed his kindergarten year!  We are so proud of all the skills he has learned this year.  It hasn’t all been smooth sailing, but overall we’ve had tons of fun!


Last day of school

First day of school

Started at the table, ended by the fire because it is cold!

We started each school day by praying for an African Unreached People Group.  AIM has created cards, much like playing cards, which represent African UPG’s and give a small description for each.  Then we did a daily devotion, practiced a weekly memory verse, and read a Bible story.  Throughout this school year, Kyle learned 25 Bible verses and we completed one and a half children’s Bible story books.


We then did math, practiced handwriting, and did reading.  We finished math with about 15 lessons remaining in his book.  They were all review anyway, and I am content having done 145 lessons.  He completed almost the entire Reading Made Easy book which I anticipated taking us two years to complete.  He really has this reading thing down.  He also completed one and a half of his “early readers”.  I started the year with one goal: teach the boy to read.  I believe I accomplished my goal!  After reading, he would copy two or three sentences from the story in Reading Made Easy.  

Sometimes Kyle stays up too late Sunday Night Sleepovering with Dad and Monday morning is a drag.


I had hoped to do a lot of reading aloud and it just didn’t happen.  We did read aloud a number of children’s chapter books and we managed to read through a book and a half of the Uncle Arthur’s stories.  I hope to find more really good read alouds for next school year.  We started quite a few which were recommended, but the vocabulary was way more advanced than I thought he was understanding and he seemed totally uninterested.  The ones we did find which were on his comprehension level, he loved. 

Copy work from early in the year



We baked plenty of cookies, colored plenty of pictures, and took plenty of walks.  We played plenty of games!  Over all, I am very pleased with how his first year went.  I have some work to do, getting my girls to play quietly without interrupting us.  But I believe we can find a decent routine after a couple months' break.


So proud of my boy!  In celebration of all his work, we had a little party with a few neighbor boys last night and, of course, baked a cookie cake to share!


~Abby

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Coffee with a Friend



Ellee turned four last week.  I am totally crazy about this girl.  She is so feisty.  She keeps me on my toes and stretches me far and wide.  But she loves generously.  She doesn’t ever withhold a compliment or word of affection if it pops into her little head.  She really is sugar and spice and I love her for it.  I hope she always keeps her spunk.


There are a million and one things I could share about her.  But I really was struck last night by how accepting and kind she is to anyone.  I went to get her from a neighbors’ house and found her sitting at their kitchen table, sipping coffee and munching chewy Basotho bread.  She was talking the ear off our neighbor’s shepherd.  It is winter, so the shepherd is back in Mokhotlong to be out of the harsh environment of the rural mountains.  During the summer, he lives alone way, way out in a small hut.  However, it is safer for him to spend winter here, because he has more access to heat sources and doesn’t run the risk of freezing to death if it snows.  During the winter, the shepherd goes off in the morning with the herd and doesn’t return until sundown.  When he gets the sheep and goats back into their corral for the night, he goes to the house kitchen for supper, which he typically eats alone.  He eats a massive portion, as he hasn’t eaten all day, and he isn’t shy about shoveling it in for that very reason.  After supper, he goes down to his own small house beside the corral and sleeps, only to do it all again tomorrow.  He does this routine every single day without exception.  He doesn’t speak a bit of English but that didn’t deter Ellee.  She was just jabbering away about how hungry he must be because he’d been gone all day.  And something about the sheep and goats and I don’t know what else.  I couldn’t help but smile at how opposite it looked, little Ellee with her french braided blonde hair, pink jeans and light up Minnie Mouse shoes in the chair beside a man who couldn’t be less like her.  The shepherd, although friendly, is very rugged.  He dresses in very traditional shepherd garb.  His clothes are well worn, his beard is scruffy, his thick blanket and heavy rubber boots quickly indicate that he spends his days quite isolated while he watches the herds graze on the hillside.  I would honestly expect Ellee to be a bit skittish around him.  Obviously I am wrong about her.  She left with me saying how he is her friend and she would finish her coffee tomorrow with him.  She didn’t want him to eat alone.  I don’t pretend to know or understand all the cultural morĂ©s here.  But I’ve heard and seen enough over my years here to know that shepherds are not generally accepted as friends by non-shepherds.  They do their jobs, but they are quite a separate part of society in most cases.  Not to Ellee though.  She hasn’t lived long enough to pick up on those social boundaries and I am glad.  

I hope she never allows her friendliness to be contained by social groups.  I hope she will always befriend the outcasts or those who are viewed as different or less important.  I hope she never cares if someone is black or white, rich or poor, educated or not.  I hope she always pulls up a chair and talks about life with another gentle, friendly soul.  I hope she never quits enjoying coffee with a friend.  I hope she never changes.
(Table Mountain, Cape Town RSA)

~Abby

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

It's Beginning To Feel A Lot Like Christmas.....


..... Except it's the beginning of May!  Winter is moving into Mokhotlong and I feel something like a bear preparing for hibernation.  It is funny how quickly one can forget how cold cold feels.  Sometimes it feels cold in my bones.  And we are only just beginning.  I’ve brought out my scarves, puffy vests and long socks.  My trusty sheep skin slippers are my long lost best friends.  We’re getting reacquainted.  The warm drink stash is dwindling and we need to restock.  I’ve baked lots of goodies full of ginger and cinnamon in the past few weeks.  A pot of apple butter simmered on my stove for hours and I discovered apple butter pancakes this weekend.  I’m never looking back!  Chili was on the menu for supper last night.  And a running headband/ear cover is on my buy-when-down list because…. brrrrr.

 

It’s been cool at night for the past month or more.  We began layering up the baby in early April.  The evolution of heat sources here is comical to me.  Typically when it starts cooling off back home, we just bump the thermostat up a bit and continue with life.  When it starts feeling cold during the day, we switch out our closets to winter clothes and continue on with life.  But here, without central heat, it is a much more detailed process which, after a few years of practice, we have down to a science.  

We first begin by warming rice socks.  Our bedroom is the coldest room in the house, so for weeks I’ve been bringing hot rice socks to bed at night to help warm up the sheets.  The kids rooms are notably warmer, so they just bundle up and snuggle in no problem.  The baby doesn’t stay under covers very well, so we dress her up like the Michelin man before bed.  She is currently wearing either one heavy sleeper and a sweatshirt or a lightweight sleeper under a heavy sleeper at night.  Then we slip her into a sleep sack before bed.  We did mittens for a cold, wet week.  For right now, she’s been sleeping mitten-free, which is obviously her preference.  


A couple weeks ago, when it started getting below freezing nearly every night, we broke out the hot water bottles.  These things rock!  We own three but need more.  For right now, the kids get them for sleeping.  I boil water in the electric kettle and then pour it into the hot water bottles, leaving space to press air out before screwing on the lid.  Then we tuck the bottles into their cute little covers and stick them into the kids’ beds before bedtime.  They retain heat so well, the bottles are still warm in the morning.



This weekend, I brought out the electric bed heaters which go beneath our sheets.  They aren’t expensive to run, really, but electricity isn’t cheap so we try to hold off on using them as long as we can.  But enough is enough.  I have one on Kyle’s bed and one on our bed.  I’m too nervous to have one on the girls’ beds because I don’t really love the idea of electricity running under their sheets.  So the girlies can have the extra water bottle and rice socks now that the big people are finished with them.  


When we return after our trip this week, we’ll start running the wall heaters, which really help to heat Kyle’s and Ellee’s rooms, and the anthracite stove.  We need to get some more coal and fix our chimney before we can start the stove.  Those things are on our short-term to-do list.  Jonathan and our neighbor guys are burying the new pipes to the tank in our yard as I write.  We also have to reinsulate some other pipes which needed replacing.  I think you could call this “winterizing” the house.


I have winter goals of working on my hand embroidery and reading good read-aloud books to the kids.  We are looking forward to a school break after a fun first year for Kyle!  And we are expecting a brutally cold, possibly snowy winter.  There was heavy snow last year while we were in America.  Although I would love to see some good snow, I’m hoping this year it doesn’t knock the electricity out for a month!  Nevertheless, we’re armed and ready with candles and lamps, our coal stove and gas oven so we should be able to manage with or without electricity if necessary.  

~Abby

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

All About Sani

Well before we moved here, we heard about Sani Pass.  We heard that it was dangerous and scary and that is gives young people gray hair.  Google confirmed all those accusations.  It truly is a treacherous journey when we drive down that direction.  Because the vast majority of you won’t ever experience it yourselves, I thought I’d describe it in detail here.  Just for fun.  


It takes about an hour from our driveway to the top of Sani.  The road between here and there was literally a piece of work the first few times we drove it.  The Chinese had come in and were busy blasting, carving, chipping and chopping away at the mountains to make space for a decent road.  We once were stopped for over an hour waiting to pass because they were blasting ahead.  Before, the road was narrow and unpaved.  Now, the road is smooth, wide and, although windy, easy to drive.  

At the top of Sani is the Lesotho border post.  It is very small and the folks who work there are almost always inside by a fire playing cards.  It is very relaxed and they know us now.  The top of Sani, at approximately 10,000 feet elevation, is chilly even in summer.  In winter is it bitter cold.  The fire inside burns nearly year round.  We stamp all of our passports and pile back into Rocky.  The law states that only 4X4 vehicles are allowed to travel the pass.  Rocky qualifies.  Jono switches the gear box into low range and puts on the difference lock.  There are reasons for this which I don’t fully understand and/or don’t fully want to explain.  But basically it makes Rocky safer to drive down the steep road ahead.  A sign requests that right of way be given to ascending vehicles, as it’s harder to stop and go as you are traveling up.  Many spots in the road are not wide enough for two cars to pass, so you must be aware of oncoming traffic.  


We start down.  Oftentimes you can see far into South Africa with an unobstructed view.  Other times there is a layer of clouds hanging lower than the mountains, which makes it look like a big white blanket is spread across the lowlands.  And occasionally there is fog which means you really can’t see anything.  That doesn’t feel too good.  But we really aren’t nervous.  We turn on some Toby Keith to bump down so our singing voices sound like his.  We figure if we go over, we go over.  What can we do?  We need groceries and want fast food.  The hairpin turns begin immediately.  I believe I've counted 14 major turns with a number of other twists and turns along the way.  They have names like: Suicide Bend, Reverse Corner and Hemorrhoid Hill (gross).  The rapid turning only lasts a few minutes; we drive slowly and carefully.  The road is narrow and there is no guard rail.  Not that it would help if there was one; it’s a long ways down.  A few of the turns are a really close call and Rocky’s tires are closer to the edge than we’d like to admit.  There are small water falls coming from all directions.  Water is coming out of the rocks.  In the wintertime, that water is frozen solid in places that never see the sun.  It is then two foot long icicles. 


When the quick turns are over, we wind down and around and down and around another bumpy 20 minutes to the South African border post.  The road here is essentially a ton of large rocks packed hard into the dirt.  It means a lot of jerking around in the car.  The kids ask why the road is so bumpy.  And how much longer do we have?  And say things like, “Daddy, I just hit my head.”  We drive through a number of streams along the way.  We go fast to try to clean off Rocky.  Free car wash.  The border post provides a much needed bathroom break after all that bumping.  If we’re lucky, we see baboons hanging around high on the rocks above the post.  If we’re unlucky, they chase us.  Just kidding.  Although they are quite aggressive, they do keep their distance.  We stamp our passports again, this time with temporary visas for South Africa, and continue on our way.  There is another 30 minutes of very bumpy, windy road ahead.  The lower area of the road is extremely muddy, which is so dangerous when it is raining (or just after).  Just this past week, we were slip sliding all over the place trying to drive it.  It’s awful.  Rocky very nearly got stuck and we were a little too close to sliding off the edge for comfort.  It’s still very high, even though we are way past Sani pass.  Going over would be a big problem.  We really wish they would pave this part of the road, but alas, it is unlikely.


Sani is a huge tourist attraction in this area of South Africa.  It is known as the most precipitous (highest climb in shortest distance) pass in Africa.  People pay good money to take a guided tour up and down it in one day.  If you want to spend the night at the top, you can pay a hefty tourist rate to stay at the Sani Mountain Lodge.  Because Sani is an attraction for tourists, thrill seekers, bikers and others, it is unlikely that much will be done to change the rugged appeal to the pass.  It can be annoying to pass so many touring vehicles when we are trying to get to the grocery or a doctor’s appointment.  We also know it is exactly four hours from our porch to the McDonald’s parking lot, so we’re aiming for lunch time.

We can typically accomplish Sani in about an hour.  Then it’s another two hour drive to the nearest large city, Pietermaritzburg.  That drive is absolutely stunning.  It reminds us of Tennessee or Kentucky.  Rolling hills and large dairy farms.  Lots of ponds and lakes are sprinkled around.  The road is smooth and the scenery is lovely.  We’re over the worst of it and on our way to french fries.  It feels good.

~Abby

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Wanderer

As a child, I used to love to visit my grandparents' house.  As an adult, I still get just as excited.  When I return to that log cabin set beautifully atop a mountain, memories of summer days and winter nights come flooding back.  Having spent a career in the Air Force, my Oma and Opa have collected a variety of unique items which decorate their lovely home.  I enjoy looking at the paintings and carvings from foreign lands.  The house itself is warm and welcoming, but most of all I love the memories I have from many visits over the years.  


The smell of strong coffee fills the house in the mornings.   Slowly but surely family arises and gathers for a simple breakfast.  Some have slept at the Big House, others at the cottage on the backside of the property, some even camp in the side yard in a pop out camper.  Mornings are spent on the front porch if it’s warm outside, or in the sunroom if it’s chilly.  When breakfast is cleared and put away, a family walk is on the agenda.  We spend a lot of time walking and exploring the land surrounding the house.

There is a pond on the bottom of the property where we go to feed the fish.  Walking down is easy, but walking back up is always a feat.  When I was small, it felt like such a long ways.  Now I realize it isn’t that far at all.  We climb trees and inspect moss and collect flowers for a table center piece.  In the heat of summer, we enjoy picking blackberries.  


Games begin on the front terraces during the late morning and after lunch.  Three legged races, bocce ball or softball with plastic bats and plastic balls are included in some of the fun.  We spread quilts on the lawn and enjoy each other’s company in the shade.  The beautiful lawn doubles as a driving range, where Opa practices his long-range shots.  We take rides in the golf cart and hunt for lost golf balls.  Sometimes, if it’s too hot or too cold, we venture down into the basement for more games or a classic movie.  I remember watching Lion King and Riverdance the most.  Those are two of my very favorite movies even now.  I almost always tear up watching Riverdance now because it takes me right back to my childhood in Oma’s basement.  



Summer nights are spent playing outside games.  We love to play flashlight tag.  We dress in dark clothes, set boundaries around the yard, and run to hide in our best spots.  My dad and my uncle often begin the hunting.  Fireflies light up in the dark and crickets are making noise all around.  We do our best to not giggle as they walk right past us. 
  
During the holidays, the house bustles with people moving about preparing for a big family get-together.  Some set places at the tables, while others are assembling the food on the buffet.  My Oma is a great cook and an even better hostess.  The air is so chilly outside, but sometimes I go out on the front porch swing while the dinner is being prepared.  There is plenty of space to spread out inside, but I enjoy sitting outside and breathing in the fresh mountain air and gazing at the starry night.  There seem to be so many more stars above that mountain than anywhere else.  

When the night is over and we all head to our designated sleeping spots, I enjoy replaying the day’s events before falling asleep.  It never gets old being there.  It’s the perfect place to visit, relax, eat and have tons of fun.  


Months ago, I saw an add for Wanderer Bracelets with coordinates from your favorite place.  During this stage of my life, I certainly feel like a wanderer.  I also feel as though I'll never feel completely at home anywhere again.  I've left pieces of my heart in lots of places and I'm only just getting started.  That specific place holds such cherished memories for me, I decided to order myself a Wanderer Bracelet with the coordinates from my grandparents' front porch.  I love knowing a little piece of my heart is with me even here.




~Abby

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Scratch that! Cracker Barrel in Mokhotlong

Once upon a time, in a faraway land, Jonathan and I worked at Cracker Barrel together.  It was a sweet time, really.  Looking back, I have fond memories of heading off to work together at the crack of dawn to serve grumpy old people their coffee.  We used to rock out to Daughtry to wake ourselves up.  It only lasted a few months before we moved to Mexico, but it was fun.  Seven years, a few kids and a few countries later, that all feels like another life.  But I did learn a few things working there.



I learned that people are way too particular about their food.  True story - I had a table send back their eggs not once, not twice, but three times because they were not cooked, "over medium-well."  I distinctly remember how close I was to reminding them that it was an egg and not a steak.  Miraculously I managed to keep my cool.  Another true story - I had one grumpy man refuse to look at me the rest of the time I waited his table just because I wouldn't butter his toast (it was store policy that we weren't supposed to touch the food without gloves or tongs....).  Oh! And one last true story.  I had one woman who would come in with her kids and leave me a great tip if I'd fish out the "soft biscuits" from the biscuit drawer for her picky son.  Seriously?  Biscuits are good.  Soft or crispy, who cares?  Lather some apple butter on it and cram it in your mouth.  People.  I loved waiting tables, but it could be stressful.

I also learned that daily access to unlimited biscuits and sweet tea was hard on my waistline.  If you knew how much sugar they put in their sweet tea, you might consider ordering water next time you visit Cracker Barrel.  And the biscuits are so good.  I've yet to master them like Cracker Barrel has.  I doubt I ever will.

Thankfully, I did learn how they make some of their food.  I used to order the grilled chicken tenders and turn them into a sandwich.  There was a very cheap way of doing that which I won't explain here.  But somehow, someway, I found out that their grilled chicken tenders are just marinated in Italian Dressing.  My life was changed.  It's the easiest and best way to eat chicken.  I make it like this often. Cut chicken breasts into tenders and put them in a bowl.  Pour Italian dressing over them and let them hang out for a few hours in the fridge.  Heat a pan pretty well and put them in, letting some of the dressing drip off first.  The oil in the dressing works great for cooking and if you time it just right, you can get great caramelization on both sides.  Don't worry if the pan starts to look like the bottom is charred, it washes off so easily and creates that nice caramelization.  Cook in batches until you are piled up and ready for a homemade Cracker Barrel feast.


Recipes have their place and I spend plenty of time browsing cookbooks and recipe blogs.  But oftentimes, I just have to make things up as I go.  Pictured above is my trusty coleslaw I mentioned in  a previous post.  I heard that Cracker Barrel's slaw is made with poppyseed dressing.  Maybe that is true, but I don't have access to it here.  So I stick with my simple mayo, vinegar and sugar dressing combo, plus mustard seeds.  Fab!

I also made up a hash brown casserole, which is a Cracker Barrel fave for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  I didn't ever order it myself, but I've tasted plenty of bites of Jono's.  Most HBRs (as it's known to the service staff at CB) are made with frozen shredded hash browns.  I've discovered you can just shred potatoes on a box grater and you basically have the same thing.  I mixed the shredded potatoes with cheese (lots), milk, eggs, minced onion, salt and pepper.  It cooked long and hot, until the potatoes were tender.

Growing up, my mom could whip up fried apples in no time.  I make them like she did, using sliced fresh apples, sometimes peeled, sometimes not.  I brown them briefly in a bit of butter before adding some apple juice or water to let them simmer.  While they simmer, I add some brown sugar, a tiny bit of salt, and a healthy shake of cinnamon.  After about ten minutes, I add a small amount of cornstarch dissolved in water to thicken the sauce.  I don't make them as saucy as Cracker Barrel's, but it would be easy enough to do.

Making dinner at home is so much cheaper than eating out, especially for a big family.  Since we don't have the option of eating out, I'm always making dinner at home and it is nice to enjoy comfort foods.  If I can wing Cracker Barrel in my kitchen in Mokhotlong, surely you can whip some up where you are, too!


~Abby

Saturday, January 21, 2017

There's A First Time For Everything

We first met Danki in 2013 on our initial visit to Mokhotlong.  We didn’t have a place to live here yet and we had only come to visit a colleague, Jayne, and survey the town.  Jayne took us around Mokhotlong, showing us where we could find some groceries and to show us what a rental house might look like.  Along our tour, we met an elderly lady who sat on her front porch and chatted with us for a while.  Sound familiar?  I blogged about her on Christmas Eve.  There were a dozen young kids around, understandably curious of the outsiders who had come to their little part of Mokhotlong.  Jonathan, Kyle, tiny Ellee, Lacy, my mom and myself were there and in our pictures, Danki was there, too.  We didn’t know it at the time, but it turns out that we moved in next door to that elderly lady, MaTopi, and she is now our neighbor.  Because Danki rents a room from MaTopi, he is also our neighbor.  He first moved to Mokhotlong in 2009.  The youngest of ten children, he was born and raised in a village until age ten.  At that point, he moved to Mokhotlong to continue his education in the better town schools.  Eventually, he began renting a room from MaTopi and started high school nearby.  He recently graduated and has since been doing odd jobs around town.  He hopes to go to college and study engineering.  He will have to work to pay his way through school.

Around Thanksgiving, he told us in conversation that he had never been to South Africa.  He said he had a passport, but it had never been used.  He wanted to see the ocean.  We asked when he turned 18, since it’s much easier to take someone across the border once they are an adult.  He said his 18th birthday was the first of January.  So, we told him we’d take him along sometime when we were going to the coast.  When we decided to fly Lacy home out of Durban, we determined it would be as good a time as any to take Danki with us as well. 

Typically when we go to Durban, we’re there for doctor’s appointments and necessary shopping.  We usually stay with friends and oftentimes don’t even make it to the beach.  For Danki, however, the beach was first priority.  Thus, I found a condo right on the beach for an absolute steal and booked it for a couple nights after Lacy’s departure.  Danki was counting down the days weeks ago.  He told us he could barely sleep last week because he was so excited.  On Sunday morning, we packed up and embarked on a trip of firsts.  We knew seeing the ocean would be a first, but it hadn’t even occurred to me exactly how many firsts he would experience during a few days in South Africa.


First ride down Sani.  First border crossing.  First passport stamp.  First monkey sighting.  First ride on a freeway.  He couldn’t believe how fast the cars were going.  First automatically opening doors.  First time in a mall.  First time ordering from a menu.  First meal at a sit-down restaurant.  First shower.  First time seeing a small dog.  First McDonalds.  First traffic jam.  First view of an airport.  First look at the ocean.  Second, third, forth, fifth shower - he’s hooked.  First night in an air-conditioned room.  First time seeing a poodle.  He roared with laughter.  All the dogs in Mokhotlong are mutt herd dogs.  A groomed poodle was just a hilarious sight to him.  We enjoyed his reaction.  First elevator.  First escalator.  He went up and down a few times just because he could.  First time to a movie theatre.  First swim in the ocean.  First swim in a pool.  I couldn't believe he knew how to swim, but he did!  First milkshake.  First parking garage.  First air hockey.  First soda fountain.  I should’ve counted the number of refills he got!  First water fountain. First drive thru.  His reaction was priceless.  He couldn’t believe there was a person behind the screen taking our order and that the food was going to magically appear out of a window.  Jono explained the headset concept.  First bumper cars.  First zebra.  First ostrich.  And I'm sure many more I'm forgetting!








While we were out, the monkeys got in and made a huge mess!  The housekeeper left the window open and this....



It’s so interesting how commonplace all these things are to me.  In fact, for us, coming to South Africa is comforting because it feels like home.  It looks more like America than anywhere else nearby, and the sights, smells and sounds are much like those from home.  It’s still different, but it’s a whole lot closer to American life than we find in Mokhotlong.  Danki, on the other hand, knows nothing of life outside of Lesotho.  Excluding a very short school trip to the capital city, he barely knows life outside of Mokhotlong.  Needless to say, he’s intrigued and maybe a bit shell shocked by life there.  And it was so fun to watch him experience it. 

I don’t know where his bright smile and kind heart will take him in life.  I hope and pray he makes wise choices.  He has the potential to have a bright and successful future.  I suspect this won't be the only trip to South Africa he takes with us.  It really couldn't have been more fun for any of us!


~Abby