Living, Learning & Loving La Vida Nueva

Friday, January 12, 2018

Opportunity and Success

There is a young girl who visits me occasionally.  I first met her at the river one day while I was chatting on the phone and she was doing laundry.  She comes to me for English vocabulary help.  She’s fluent in English, but wants to broaden her vocabulary base.  She wants to be a poet or an actress.  She brings me things she’s read, elaborate poetry or Bible texts, so I can help explain the difficult words to her. Finding synonyms for difficult words which aren’t also difficult is difficult.  This afternoon, she walked into my kitchen.  I was expecting someone else so it surprised me to see her standing there.  She came to tell me she had failed 10th grade math and wouldn’t be able to continue her studies.  She wanted to know if I knew anyone she could work for or what she could do.  She was afraid to go home because her grandfather was coming to beat her.  That is the only punishment here.  It’s harsh.  High school isn’t free, so if a pupil struggles, it is seen as a waste of money.  I felt so deflated when she said she wouldn’t be continuing her school.  There isn’t much opportunity for young people here, but without a high school education, there is even less.  I took her to my neighbor who is a teacher at a different school.  She suggested she discuss with her teachers and see if she could do tutoring to make up her 10th grade math and then continue on with her schooling next year.

It made me think.  I grew up in a society where children are asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”  Everything is a possibility.  Opportunity is available.  Success is achievable.  You want to be a brain surgeon?  Go for it!  Study hard and apply yourself.  You want to be an actress?  Get involved in a local playhouse and chase your dreams.  You want to be an electrician?  There is no shortage of opportunity or job availability!  Your profession will always be useful.  Learn at a college or study under a skilled electrician.  That isn’t the way it is here, or in most places in the world.  I grew up believing I could be whatever I wanted to be.  I still believe that!  Someday, when I’m old and I’ve raised my kids and have more free time, I’d like to open a small cafe.  There isn’t a thing in me that makes me believe I couldn’t do it!  But here, when I hear, “I want to be an actress” or “I want to be a pilot”, I think, “There is no way.” I’m not trying to be pessimistic!  I want to be optimistic!  I want to believe that the opportunity is there.  But I know better.  The funding isn't there for schooling.  The jobs aren’t there to be filled.  There is only an up hill climb for anyone in Lesotho who wants to be something out of the ordinary.  So I encourage her, study hard.  Try to go to university in South Africa.  Try to build your credentials and maybe, just maybe, you’ll get a break.  But in my heart, I feel the truth.  It’s so unlikely, it’s nearly impossible.  I pray she can finish high school and I pray, with God’s grace and lots of determination, she will have the future she dreams of having.  And I pray her parents and grandparents are easy on her, because she’s obviously a brilliant student who probably just spends too much time on English and not enough time on math.

In other Mokhotlong news…..

I found sweet potatoes in South Africa a couple weeks ago.  It’s a rare find.  I’ve only ever found them once before.  I snatched two bags and have been dreaming of what all I wanted to do with them.  I found this recipe for chocolate sweet potato cake in one of my go-to Taste of Home cookbooks and decided to give it a try.  I followed the recipe with a few simple adjustments.  Firstly, 2 cups of sugar is ridiculous.  I cut it in half and judging by the batter, it’s plenty sweet!  Recipes almost always call for way more sugar than necessary.  Then, 2 cups of pecans.  Seriously?  Have you priced pecans lately?  No.  No way.  I don’t use 2 cups of pecans in a month and I’m certainly not dumping that many in a cake.  I buy pecans fresh from the health food store in South Africa at the cheapest price around and they are still painfully expensive.  So, I just grabbed a handful of those cherished nuts and chopped them up well before tossing them in.  Then to add some more texture and yum due to the lack of pecans, I added a handful of chocolate chips.  Obviously.  I will split it up and take it to my neighbors for safe keeping, since I can’t be held accountable for what would happen to this chocolate sweet potato cake should it all remain in my home.

Dinner tonight is ribs, which come from my favorite butchery.  I’ve become such a butchery snob.  They are cheaper than the grocery stores here, and the meat is so fresh and customizable.  I always get just what I want.  I’m using some of the barbecue sauce my mom brought because I have enough to take a bath in, and because it’s amazing and tastes like home. Thanks, Selena!  I rubbed the ribs with Fat Jake's, a spice blend a friend makes.  It's so good!  I’m making these potatoes because cream cheese improves everything and fresh carrots because we bought them along the road-side this week and they are beautiful.  I know ya’ll think we are really suffering up here, eating unidentifiable food and never having a treat.  Sorry not sorry for shattering the image of poor, unfortunate, sacrificing missionaries.  It’s not such a bad existence, I promise.  You should try it!

Off I go to wake Sadie from her nap because she’s sleeping too long and I want to sleep tonight.  Hope you all have your Christmas decorations down.  I believe today is the deadline.  Mine are all down, it took me about 5 minutes.  


Saturday, January 6, 2018

Wife Life

I started the day earlier than I would’ve liked.  It is Saturday after all.  But Sadie didn’t seem to remember that as she came crawling into my bed for “milkies”.  I still need to wean her. I still don’t know how.  I was already in the kitchen getting ready to start breakfast by 7:45.  In my opinion, that’s too early for a Saturday morning unless something very exciting is about to happen. Today nothing exciting happened.

Before I could get going on breakfast, there was a knock at my door.  The lady who comes occasionally to hand wash things that don’t go in my washing machine was here.  For five years, I’ve had people asking me regularly for work. There are countless requests to nanny my children.  There are many offers by passersby to do my laundry as I hang it out on the line.  Many request to weed my garden.  I’ve had people come to the door, stop me in town, ask me quietly as I pass them along the road.  I’ve turned down so many people for “piece jobs”, as they are called here, and it is hard.  It is hard to know whom to help and how to help.  I couldn’t possibly employ all the people who come by asking for work.  I usually turn them away saying I don’t have any work to be done (which is true, I do it :) ).  Truly, what would I give all these people to do and what would I do if I had all my jobs covered?  But sometime last year, this little lady came to my door.  She had a baby on her back.  She asked for R12 (less than $1) to buy paraffin, which is used here for cooking.  She asked if I had any laundry that needed doing.  I prefer to wash things in my machine.  Maybe it’s my culture or the way I was raised, but I think they are good and clean that way and they feel softer than when they are hand washed.  But some things don’t fit in my machine or don’t belong in my machine.  Rugs and coats are two major ones.  So for whatever reason, when this lady came by, I offered her a few things to wash.  She did such a thorough job, I told her to come back any Saturday and I would find her something to wash.  She doesn’t speak a word of English and my Sesotho is atrocious.  I usually have to get Detay or Joy to translate for me so we can communicate.  So, she comes by every so often (amazingly not every Saturday….) and I always find a rug or two for her to wash.  Today she washed my two biggest rugs.  I paid her generously, by Mokhotlong’s standards, but to me it’s still hard to stomach someone working for as little as they do here. 

This morning I cleaned the entire house.  I spend my days sweeping.  Africa produces a lot of dirt.  Children produce a lot of dirt.  Even so, every week or sometimes less, the house needs a thorough going over, from top to bottom.  I love a clean, neat, sweet-smelling house.  It’s like a visual sigh of relief.  I love clean, wind-dried sheets and can’t wait to go to bed tonight.  I also love clean kids which means this every night.

During the girls’ afternoon rest/nap time, I went for a jog.  Ruby needs the exercise and so do I.  I enjoy the fresh air and sunshine.  It’s a great time to just clear my head.  I pass by lots of kids and they make me smile.  The little girl in the picture below (can you spot her?) is so spunky.  She’s so thin, she looks like she could blow away in the strong midday winds.  But she’s full of herself and she swings her tiny hips and jabbers to herself as she walks past me.  I see her regularly.  Everyone asks for my dog.  She isn’t actually mine…. She’s on long-term loan from a friend.  I appreciate her for her companionship and protection. For some reason, even though Basotho are terrified of her, they all want her.  Then when I say I’m not giving her up, they ask for her puppies.  You should see the confusion on their faces as I tell them she won’t be having any puppies…. A very foreign concept here.

Sadie Kate and I did yoga before dinner.  I am not any kind of yoga fanatic, but I started doing some short videos a couple months back.  I’m still suffering mightily with my aching head and neck and thought maybe I could stretch out some tension.  I am using Yoga by Adriene videos which a friend downloaded for me.  The jury is still out on if it’s helping or not, but I continue trying regardless.  At least I have a cute yoga buddy.

For dinner, I pulled this recipe to try out of my favorite cookbook — Taste of Home Country Cooking.  I like the older ones because they use a lot of “from scratch” ingredients, which I need in Mokhotlong.  There’s no canned soup, ready-made biscuits, jars of enchilada sauce, bottles of teriyaki sauce, etc etc.  I had some ground pork I wanted to use and decided on this recipe.  Because I didn’t have “pork sausage”, I added a bit of salt, paprika, sage and garlic to my ground pork.  Everything else I kept the same.  It was seriously so easy and so good!  I served it over rice with stir fry on the side.  When I make it again, I will reduce the sugar some because it was pretty sweet with the ketchup and brown sugar.  But otherwise, it got two enthusiastic thumbs up from my clan.  Give it a whirl!

The rugs are dry now and back in place.  The big one spent the afternoon on top of Rocky so as to keep it good and clean while it dried.  Thankfully there weren’t any bird droppings on it when we pulled it down tonight.  Ellee’s rug had horrible grease stains from where she spilled a bottle of baby oil on it some time back.  I’ve washed it since then, but the stains remained.  This morning I treated it with Shout and Dawn dish soap (my two prized American cleaning supplies) before the lady took it to the river to wash it.  I wish I had a before picture!  It came out so beautifully, I can’t believe it!

Overall, a productive Saturday for Mrs. St.Clair.  I’m tired, but it’s a good tired.  I am hopeful that 2018 is going to be a great year!  At least with a clean house and yummy leftovers, I know tomorrow is going to be a great day.  Off to bed I go.


Friday, December 1, 2017

December First Musings

Fresh flowers from my yard

A lot of November was spent with people.  I love people.  We've been busy, in and out of Mokhotlong, and I feel like December is going to seem quiet in comparison.  After the World Race team departed, we had a tough situation arise which you can read about here.  It hurts to see people you love hurting.  But we also felt refreshed after our extended time with the team.  It's always worth it to pour into others and God is faithful to supply what you need even when you feel as though you have nothing to offer.

My parents and brother came and went and we had a wonderful time together.  Highlights were a totally unexpected snow dump, a hike up the mountain, jogging with my dad around Mokhotlong, skipping rocks on the river, tons of dish washing parties, hosting a Thanksgiving feast, horseback riding, a shopping trip with my mom and playing at the beach.  It is always such a special treat to have family around.

While we were with the World Race team in Johannesburg, some of the girls asked me what I miss about home.  Immediately the word "fall" came out of my mouth.  I love fall.  It's my favorite season.  I love everything about it, but especially the smells it brings.  It's tough every year to go through October and November as it warms up in the Southern Hemisphere and there are blossoms on the trees, rather than crackling colorful leaves.  I miss candles.  Candles aren't really a thing here.  Before we moved to Africa, I used to light a candle every night after dinner.  So a couple of my friends from the team went out that afternoon and bought me a Cinnamon Stick Yankee Candle while at the mall.  Yankee Candles are imported here and as if they aren't expensive in the US, they are even more so here.  I have seen them here at the fancy malls in the big cities, but have never splurged on one.  These two ladies got me one and brought it to me after I was half asleep that night.  They came in and handed me a heavy bag and it didn't register in my mind at that moment what it was.  It dawned on me a little while later.  I had to force myself to light it today.  I just want to save it because it's so special, I don't want to waste it!  This evening it is cool and rainy.  The perfect time to light a candle.  So I did, and I love it!  Thanks, Emma and Millie, for ministering to my fall-sick heart.

Before we took my family back to the airport, we threw leftover Thanksgiving dinner in the freezer.  I decided to try to jazz it up a bit this afternoon to turn it into a nice dinner.  I sort of used this recipe, although I did a ton of altering due to my limited resources.  I made my own cream of chicken soup mixture and subbed carrots for celery.  I also added French fried onions to the top because why not?  It was seriously delicious.  Highly recommend.

Decorating for Christmas takes me no more than ten minutes, as you can see by the state of our tiny tree.  Don't tell my kids that it's not normal.  They are super excited and are already begging to open their gifts.  I like our little tree.  It adds such a nice glow to the living room.

I hope all you lovely people are gearing up for a beautiful season celebrating Emmanuel, God with us.  May the miracle of His birth not be lost on us!


Sunday, November 5, 2017

Racing Through Mokhotlong

Ellee and her new BFFs

Four weeks ago, when the World Race team arrived in Mokhotlong, we had no idea how they would nestle into our lives and hearts and leave us wishing that they didn't have to move on!  It's been such a treat to have them here and enjoy living our lives together.  Today they left Mokhotlong to journey on to another country where I know they will be a blessing and I pray they will also be blessed.

It is such a treat for us to have other "makhoa" (white people/foreigners) around.  For me, it's sweet to have friends close in age -- despite our obvious gap in life-position, I really do belong in that generation -- to have around.  Most of our friends here are a good deal older than I am.  Also, it warmed my heart to see some of the girls jogging around Mokhotlong.  They had to be adding to my stereotype of the "white girl runner" in town.  Nearly every day I jog and nearly every day I receive the same questions about what I'm doing and where I'm going.  Now at least people here can see it's not just me; we are all weird!

For my kids, it is sweet to have big kids they can look up to.  They loved going up to the mission house to hang with the team during their off-times.  I sometimes had to hold them back to allow the team some solitude.  It's great to have people you can trust to look after your little ones.  I know we'll be hearing stories from Kyle and Ellee for weeks and months to come of all the fun they had with the team.

We enjoyed lots of dinners together.  As I can't easily accommodate twenty guests in my home, we made a meal schedule up and let the team choose which meal suited their cravings best.  It was a great way to get to know each of them on a more personal level.  Sadly I didn't get a photo of the first meal, which was Cracker Barrel chicken tenders and the fixings.  But the rest we did document, including tacos, pizza, copycat Chick-Fil-A, and spaghetti.  The spaghetti night was a big hit for five hungry guys and two hungry girls and they killed three pounds of pasta, as much meat sauce as I could fit in my big blue pot, and two big loaves of bread.

Pizza night
Movie Night
Jono's Table Setting Skills
Taco Night
Games after Tacos
Faux Chick-Fil-A

The Spaghetti Crew
Spaghetti Night
Rudy Night
S'mores in the Cave

So long World Racers!  May your journeys be fruitful and may your lives shine brightly for Him!  Thanks for brightening our lives for a time.  We will miss you!


Friday, October 27, 2017

Sadie Kate Turns 2!

Stop everything.  It all has to stop.  I don't want to accept it.  I can't handle it.  It's thrilling and devastating at the same time.  I am wild about my Sadie.  I want to bottle her sweet little potbellied, whipsy-haired, scrunchy-nosed, tiny-toed self up and never let her out.  I am excited that she's turning two!  Two is fun!  Three, four, five and six (and that's as far as my experience goes) are fun, too!  But I hate losing the babyness in the midst of it.  I love babies.  I have this love/hate relationship going on with my kids and their constant growing and changing and moving on to the next stage.  They are stinking persistent, I tell you.  No matter what I do, I can't make them slow down.

Two major highlights stand out in my mind when I think about this year of Sadie's life.  Firstly, we took a beautiful, relaxing, l-o-n-g road trip to Cape Town in May.  It was really a stunningly gorgeous city and we enjoyed trying to hit the highlights in five days.  I know she won't have any memory of it besides the photos she sees, but to be able to say you visited Table Mountain and the Cape of Good Hope is still bragging rights for life.  In typical Sadie fashion, she did wonderfully on the very long car ride to and from Cape Town and it was a joy to have her with us.

Secondly, in July, Sadie Kate and I sneaked across the Atlantic to surprise our family and friends with a little visit home.  I booked us tickets in June when I learned my grandfather had been diagnosed with leukemia.  It was my hope to see him before he passed away, but we didn't make it in time.  I rest assured that I will see him again in glory.  Even so, we got to visit with my family as well as some of Jonathan's family and it was a very sweet time.  Because Sadie was still under two, she was free and taking her with me wasn't really an option because she was (is) still breastfeeding.  Plus, I knew I couldn't leave Jonathan for so long with all three little people.  I was so unbelievably proud of Sadie during all the travel as she was an absolute angel baby on our total ~40 hours in the air round trip.  I can honestly say she didn't cry a single tear.  The comments from other passengers on her disposition were numerous.  Even as we landed back in Johannesburg on our way home, so incredibly dizzy and exhausted, she remained happy and smiley as we shared a milkshake before boarding our last fight to Durban.

 I loved taking her to my grandparents' houses, the pool, the zoo, the lake, to lunch and for walks around my parents' neighborhood.  It was like having my very own doll baby to dress up and play with for three weeks.  Having time to just spend with her was special and an experience I'll always cherish.

She's jabbering away constantly these days with fairly audible words and small sentences.  She absolutely loves to visit our neighbors, help herd the neighbor's sheep into their pen, play in the sand and dirt, and just generally be outdoors.  I wash so many Sadie clothes.  She gets so dirty and has such fun doing it.  She cut all her teeth without much complaint; she eats just about anything we give her.  She loves coffee and we regularly make her decaf in her sippy cup.  She loves pretzels and chocolate chips and eggs and pancakes and oats.

Her favorite things are her baby, her taggy blanket, and a bumblebee blanket which was a gift for Kyle before he was born.  She likes to rub the ribbon tags on all three of these things.  When she falls asleep, she has two hands full of tags.

She loves breastfeeding more now than ever and I'm completely unsure of how I'm going to manage to wean her.  I limit her to three times per day.  I need to wean her, I plan to wean her, I kind of want to wean her, it's just going to break her heart.  We ditched the paci a couple months ago which was painful but manageable.  But this, this is much bigger.  I really have no idea how it's going to happen. Pray for me.

I'll never forget the balmy, warm night Sadie burst into this world.  It was wild and wonderful.  I've cherished her so deeply after the agony we went through during her pregnancy.  A wise woman (Hi, Mom!) kept telling me she thought Sadie would be sweet and easy after the difficulty I experienced with her pregnancy.  And she was right.  Sadie has been the sweetest and easiest yet and I'm just crazy about her!

Happy birthday, my darling girl.  You are Mama's treasure.  I thank God for you every day.


Monday, October 23, 2017

Cause to Celebrate!

I know, I know.  I've been neglecting the blog again.  I had every intention of trying to keep up with it better this year.  But, I've been plagued with fatigue and headaches and honestly, I feel like I'm just trying to keep my head above water a lot of the time.  Two doctors appointments and lots of blood tests have rendered no concrete answers to my situation.  I'll spare you the details of all my attempts at helping the problems, but I'm hopeful some super supplements recommended by my sister-in-law will be the right thing.  They should arrive in three weeks when my parents and little brother come!

In the meantime, school continues with Kyle.  We are enjoying first grade together and he's a sweet and clever little student.  Our school routine is still pretty low key, but we're continuing through the basic necessities.  He is reading wonderfully and last week he finished the 108th lesson of Reading Made Easy, completing the book!  That's a pretty big accomplishment for a 6 year old, so a cookie cake was in order.  Really, any reason to celebrate is a good excuse for a cookie cake.  We also really enjoy our read aloud time; currently we are working through Charlotte's Web.

The tie though....

This month there is a World Race team here in Mokhotlong.  While we don't have any official connection to World Race, we always enjoy having the teams through here.  Visiting with other Americans isn't something we get to do often.  This month the team consists of 20 ~20 year olds.  My kids love walking through the neighbors' yard and up the hill to the mission house to annoy visit with the team in the afternoons.  Because we just can't accommodate all 20 of them in our house for more than a movie night, we are doing a dinner rotation over the course of a couple weeks.  So far we have enjoyed some Cracker Barrel and pizza.  Coming up this week is taco night, Chick-Fil-A night, and spaghetti night.  Some familiar cuisine is a welcome change for them after a month in Swaziland and nearly two weeks here in Lesotho.  From here they will continue on to Asia and then to South America before returning back to the US next year.  I am trying to pump them full of chocolate chip cookies, brownies and cakes to last them for the months to come.  It's the least I can do, really.

Will try not to be so quiet in the coming weeks and months!