Living, Learning & Loving La Vida Nueva

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas in Lesotho

Christmas changes as you get older; it's a well known fact.  And it really changes if you up and move around the world to a remote foreign country.  But, it also provides opportunity for new traditions, new reflection, and new joy.

It's not such a big deal here, the Christmas season.  One might see the occasional Christmas tree sparsely decorated with a string of lights and a little tinsel in a large shopping mall.  Finding lights hanging from roof tops, Christmas trees shimmering in the window of a dimly lit home, clerks dressed as elves, apple cider or peppermint Kisses would be an impossible task in this country.  For one thing, the vast majority of people who even have electricity don't have enough money to waste on decorative lights.  Homes aren't large enough to make room for a Christmas tree and stores are hardly focused on the upcoming holiday.  It is a holiday, of course. Things are closed, workers get the day off, people are visiting family and such; but, the big to-do isn't here.  If you are fortunate, your family might slaughter an animal and you'll have the rare treat of meat for dinner.  That's about the extent of the celebration.

Being the American I am, I can't bring myself to let go of the traditions I was raised with.  But, being the foreigner I am, I can't help but reflect on what Christmas is to me.  I love warm cider and a beautifully lit home on an old country road, but do I love it more than Christmas--the true meaning of Christmas?  Christmas is so much more than presents and lights, and it's much easier to see from around the world.

Growing up in a large family, we never did big Christmas.  We had our traditions, our gifts to and from family, our modest collection of special toys on Christmas morning from our parents.  And I like it that way.  I like doing the things that are special, the gift choosing, wrapping and giving.  But, I really like how simplicity helped remind me even as a child that Christmas isn't about the stuff that was coming, but rather the One who came.  We are able carry on many of the same traditions, small and special Christmas traditions with our children now, even here in the Mountain Kingdom.

I put out our few Christmas decorations on December 1st.  Kyle was pretty sure the stockings were meant to go on his feet.  I tried to explain that they'd be used on the 25th for gifts, but two year olds have very little concept of time.  

Not a posed photo
Before we moved last year, I started this project of making an advent calendar.  One of my favorite Christmas memories as a kid was moving the tiny bear from place to place on our advent calendar in anticipation of the 25th, where he finally found the tree in the living room, towering over a pile of presents.  So, I started stitching these little pockets to make a calendar for my kids.  I got all the pockets finished before I became deathly ill during my pregnancy with Ellee and that little project went on the back burner for months.  It never got finished amidst the chaos of our move (and my lingering sickness) in January.  My mom finished it for me and sent it in a package from home and I cried when I saw it; I didn't know she had finished it.  Kyle has enjoyed hopping the gingerbread man from day to day, saying "we're almost to Chris-miss."  Occasionally he'd jump a whole week, and say, "we're almost there!" before I tried to explain that you can't just time travel like that.  I don't think he got it.  Our other decorations are stockings and a small quilt hanging, also from my mom, and a pair of Christmas light salt and pepper shakers.  I hung the stockings by the door, as that was the only place I could find nails already sticking out.  Hanging things is a real pain here with the concrete walls because it requires a drill and there's not easy patch work...I digress.

Maseru Christmas decorations
I brought our advent calendar and stockings with us to Maseru.  We are here for the week celebrating Christmas with our new friends from Holland, our Unit Leaders from South Africa, and another family from America.  Our friends had decorated the little apartment we stay in behind their house with a few Christmas things to add to the Christmas spirit (and they think we're a tad bit odd, as Dutchies aren't so into Christmas like Americans. Still, they're humoring us......).  We also received via a package from home a Little People Nativity set which is great fun for both kids.

At least there is a decent stocking hanging spot in our holiday house.... :)
When we moved last year, we gave away nearly all of Kyle's toys.  That was really tough on all of us.  Little by little over the past year we've re accumulated things that are now very special to him.  He doesn't need anything, truly, and has so many more things than any of the kids we live amongst.  So, we bought him some pre-school-ish toys, Play-doh and Legos for instance, that I hope will occupy him for hours.  We also got him a new movie, snuggle socks, and a small bag of caramel popcorn for his stocking and a set of Curious George books for lazy days on the couch.  This is his third Christmas and each year just gets more exciting.  He is so thrilled by the smallest things and I love seeing the joy on his face.  He also loves watching Ellee open her new toys, and was very excited about giving her the princess Little People we bought for her.

The spread
Ellee girl has been in desperate need of some girl toys for the past couple of months.  I've been holding off until Christmas knowing we already had a few things for her.  I ordered her a stuffed lamb and a set of Little People and she also received a teddy bear, an outfit, and a few other shiny, fun toys from our Christmas shipment from home.  She had a "milk teeth" toothbrush and toothpaste in her stocking.  Alas, as she is still toothless, those will have to wait a while yet.

A very big thank you to our extremely generous "Uncle" who shipped us our Christmas presents all the way from the US.  Having a few things to unwrap and be surprised by was such a blessing to these parents' hearts.  It was very special to tell them that Lollee and Pops, Grammy and PaPa and Uncle Ric and Aunt Rachel sent them Christmas presents all the way from America.  I also got a box of 144 s'mores Poptarts, which is just about the best Christmas present I ever received.  

Today we made a fairly traditional Christmas dinner complete with turkey, ham, Stove Top stuffing (also an American import, very tasty), potatoes and gravy, cinnamon roasted winter vegetables and pumpkin & pecan pies and tiramisu for dessert.  Boukje and I spent the whole day in the kitchen and I didn't even think to photograph our spread.  I dare say it was just near perfect.  We had a full table, lots of kids running around, and two toothless babies in our midst.  It was hot and sticky with humidity, not very unlike Christmas in South Carolina oftentimes.  We had a great time and tried not to eat too much......... Well, at least I did; I can't speak for anyone else.

Certainly we miss home during this time, I miss the shops decorated for Christmas, the foods you can only get this time of year, the joy and generosity that comes with the season.  But, it is good to be here, to celebrate with others, to grow closer as a family and to remember that it isn't about gifts or tinsel... It is about Jesus and He is why we live here, He is why we live at all.  We are blessed beyond measure and my heart overflows with gratefulness for my Savior, my family, our supporters and our friends.

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

"Food, glorious food!"

Have you ever been driving through the country in what seems like the middle of no where, looking at houses and find yourself wondering, "where do these people go to the grocery?" Well, if you were to drive through Lesotho and pass by Mokhotlong, you'd wonder that.  You'd wonder, "where on earth is the grocery store in this town?"  Well, the answer is, there isn't one.  There isn't one like you'd be looking for or even close.  Likely, those people in the country have a grocery within a half hour drive of their home, you just don't know in which direction.  Not here.  But, I'm okay with that.

The road from our house to the Basotho shop
We learned when we first came to Mokhotlong for a visit that there aren't any grocery stores here.  In fact, the nearest grocery store anything like I'm familiar with back home is about four hours away.  So, for all practical purposes, I have to have a plan when we are nearby a grocery.  I'm also trying to learn what I can buy here in Mok, because I want to support the local businesses as much as possible.  I figured I'd spell out what a normal shopping strategy looks like for me. 
Most people bring donkeys to transport their groceries, or they carry them home on their heads.  We bring Rocky because we've yet to master either of the other two forms of transportation.

First, I make a meal plan for however many days we have until the next trip to a grocery.  So, this past time, we were planning to stay put in Mokhotlong from Nov 25 - the week of Christmas.  That's a lot of dinners to plan for ahead of time.  So, I start with some favorites, trying to rotate some chicken, beef, and a little pork.  Then I try to throw in a few new things or things I haven't made in a long time.  I incorporate leftover nights and a few easy nights where Kyle and I might eat toast and grits (imported from home) and Jonathan can make some fake Ramen noodles (bleh).  I try to cook enough at dinner to feed Jono leftovers just about every afternoon for lunch.  Kyle sometimes eats leftovers or he eats what I eat - a salad, a pasta salad or a toasted sandwich and fruit. Breakfasts are almost identical every day; I eat cereal and fruit, Kyle eats oatmeal and Jonathan eats some combination of bread, meat, eggs and cheese.

Once I've got my meal plan for the month together, I get my cookbooks and start my grocery list.  I think everyone does this, am I wrong?  Then I  see what I'm missing in the cabinets and start to compile my master plan.  My lists are organized into columns because if they weren't, I'd never get everything....Produce, dairy, meat, non perishables, etc etc.  I am constantly thankful for my enormous fridge.  It isn't a matter of how much space I've got there, it's more a problem of how much space is left in Rocky after we've stuffed him full of everything else we need from the city.

The things we can get here are of course very limited.  But, we've found what we think is the best place to shop, a Basotho store that keeps a number of necessities in stock.  The first time we ventured out on our own in Mokhotlong for groceries, I couldn't even come up with a loaf of bread.  You can imagine my frustration in that moment.  But, we were directed to this store and I like it.  It is something like a fully stocked quick stop shop at a gas station back home.

Sorry it's blurry, I was trying to be discreet.  On this aisle you can see seasoning mixes, sardines, porridge mixes,  and oil.
Inside you can find a variety of canned goods, bread flour and sugar, a few baking goods like soda and powder, salt, oil and even cocoa (do you see I have all the ingredients to make brownies?).  They keep a decent amount of fresh produce including potatoes, tomatoes, green peppers, onions, bananas, apples, pears, sometimes peaches, sweet potatoes and butternut.  We buy our eggs there and loaf bread when available.  There are nappies (diapers) for the baby if necessary but I'm still doing cloth when possible.  They've got basic hygiene items like toothpaste and shampoo although admittedly, I haven't purchased shampoo up here because I anticipate it's formulated for a different hair type than mine... ;) 

It was a low day for produce.  I had to go to three different shops looking for bananas and peaches and ended up buying the latter from the back of a woman's open van.
They do carry meat but we've been strongly advised to purchase our meat in South Africa and bring it up ourselves.... so I stock up when we're at the grocery stores.  We can't buy cheese or butter up here, and I've found this has created a problem.  I'm afraid I've developed a sort of anxiety where I buy entirely too much cheese and butter in the grocery because I'm fearful of running out.  The cheese here isn't great at keeping for very long so we have to freeze it.  But, if you freeze cheese in block form (the only way it comes in our groceries), it is terribly crumbly when it thaws.  So, my helpful husband has the delightful task of grating all our cheese before we freeze it.  He doesn't so much mind my cheese anxiety purchases, because he loves cheese more than I do and he, too, would prefer that we don't run out.  Butter freezes well, thankfully.  

Jonathan's weary cheese grating hands.
We are buying fresh milk from a lady in town and pasteurizing it ourselves at home.  We get milk twice weekly and immediately put it on the stove to boil.  It's 10X better than the "long-life" milk that comes in a box on the shelf which is our only other option up here.  Typically, Jonathan and Kyle go out to get the milk and they often bring back some makoenya for us.  They are fried fat cakes that cost about 10 cents each.  A lady sits outside a shop in town with a big bucket of them and Jonathan buys a bag full from her.  We like milk days.

Makoenya ready to be devoured
There are a few draw backs to the grocery situation.  Likely my least favorite part is having to grocery shop the morning of a long trip home.  Last week we knew we had about a 9 hour trip to make that day, and I was at the grocery filling two carts with groceries at 7:30 AM.  We stuff three coolers full and hide non-perishables anywhere we can find space in the vehicle.  Another issue is trying to get things home without a mess.... like my bag of cake flour that got busted in the back of Rocky on the 2 hour super bumpy part of the road home.  Strawberries don't always fare well making the mountain climb, and I'm going to plant my own strawberry plants pronto.  Then, trying to plan the menu so that the short-life produce is used early on and the longer-life produce is planned for later in the month is a feat.  And hoping that the fresh stuff lasts as long as I think it will sometimes makes me a little nervous.  I'm starting to plant some things that I'd like to have at all times; so far I've got basil, cherry tomatoes, cauliflower and baby lettuce in the ground.  Next up are strawberries, zucchini, and chili peppers.  

My cherry tomato and basil plants
Of course, the best part is that I know every single day what is for dinner that night... and the night after... and three weeks from now.  It makes the day go really smoothly, I set meat out to thaw and start supper around 4:30pm.  That's certainly a perk of planning ahead. 

Before we moved here, I really had no idea what to anticipate as far as food options went.  Honestly, it is way better than I could've ever dreamed in the big stores.  We find a lot of familiar things like barbecue and alfredo sauces, sour cream, cottage and cream cheese, Lay's chips, Kelloggs cereal, even Oreos.  A lot of familiar brands are manufactured in South Africa so they don't come with import costs.  Some of the things we want but can't find, we have sent via generous family members.  Seasonings are sometimes hard to come by but I've found a number in the nicer groceries in South Africa.  I make all our doughs from scratch because there aren't pre-pacakged things like crescent rolls, biscuits, pizza dough, and the tortillas are unbelievably expensive when available.   In general, though, we are able to eat what is familiar to us and that makes life seem a lot less foreign.

Tonight we ate homemade pizza complete with pepperonis (imported via loved ones) and italian sausage I bought here, and a BBQ chicken pizza reminiscent of what we'd eat back home.  I also made a dessert pizza with peanut butter and Reese's pieces (also imported via loved ones).  Jonathan decided this evening that pizza is the second best meal we eat here.... next only to his beloved blackened chicken pasta.

So, there you have it, a glimpse at practical life in Mokhotlong.  Care to join us? :)


Tuesday, November 26, 2013


This baby.  This little darling.  This precious sugar girl.  My baby.  She is my darling.  How can she possibly be a whole half a year old already?

I love watching her grow.  And grow she has.... look at all that chunk!  She loves her milk.  She loves her mama.  But, she really loves her milk.  She can roll over and squeal and she's working on sitting up.  She can stay for a little bit before she loses her balance but she's well on her way to being upright.  I'll be thrilled when she's able to sit up and then she can really entertain herself.  

It still feels like she's a dream.  I love her enormous blue eyes and her itty bitty nose.  I love to bury my nose in her neck, take a big whiff of her sweet baby smell and kiss all those soft baby rolls.  I love to hold her tight and rub her arm while she eats.  I love every day with her.  I enjoy seeing her stretch and smile in the morning.  And I enjoy how she adores her brother and giggles at him when he tries to be funny.  I love seeing her kick and splash in the bathtub.   But, I really dream of who she'll become.  I dream of her toddling around outside with Kyle.  I dream of putting her hair in pig tails.  I dream of listening to her jabber away like her brother does.  I dream of the company she'll be to me in years to come.  I dream of baking cookies and painting toenails with her on a rainy day.  

Little lady hasn't been the most content baby these past few weeks.  That's a nice way to put it.  I could easier say she's been a rotten mess for 2 full weeks.  We've been away from home for three weeks now and I think she's just not keen on disrupting what little routine we had.  Sometimes I feel bad for her and how unsettled her entire life has been and will continue to be.  I'm thankful, though, that she loves mama.  She sleeps wherever....mama is.  She eats wherever....mama is.  She cries wherever.....mama isn't.  But, who can blame her?  Mom, Dad and Kyle are the only three constants she's had in her life.  And mama is the one with the food.

I am not planning to start her on solids anytime real soon. But, she does love to gum at fruit (like a melon today at the church picnic) and carrots (like we had this week for dinner).  She obviously isn't hurting for any nutrients.  And I still love feeding her.  I sing her Edelweiss and rub her ever growing hair or hold her fingers.  It is something I'm really cherishing.

She is a terrible sleeper.  She isn't anywhere near sleeping through the night.  She barely makes it a couples hours at a time.  To say that I am weary of it would be a gross understatement.  I hope, now that we've got a decent stretch of home time ahead of us, that we can work a bit on sleep habits.  For the past.... well 6 months, we've been winging it.  It's a good thing she's cute. 

Whenever I'm lying in bed at night and am trying to get my mind to settle down, I think back to the night she was born and it calms me.  I am so thankful I have her birth on video and I can watch it whenever I like.  I still cry when I watch it sometimes, when I hear my reaction and when I see her sweet face and hear her timid cry.  I think about what a dream it felt like to see her for the first time.  I think back to how she used to make constant little squeaky noises.  I think about all we went through together, those months of misery this time last year, and what a treasure she is to me because of it.  She's better than any dream I've ever had and I thank God over and over for her precious life and for giving her to me.  I pray we're best pals one day.

I love you, sweets.  Happy 6 months!

Note:  It pays to have photographers for friends.  I don't choose my friends based on their artistic abilities but good fortune has been working in my favor so far in life....

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Home Updates

I've been a busy beaver painting this past week.  In 6 days, I primed and painted three bedrooms.  Needless to say, I ache a little, but I feel accomplished.  The small hallway and hall bath still need paint, as do the living and guest rooms, but those can wait.  I'd like to get the hall and bath painted before we leave (again....) to go back to Maseru for some TEE meetings and then to South Africa for an AIM conference next week.  The two big rooms will have to wait until I have some help.

You already saw Ellee's room.  I still love it.

Then, I painted Kyle's room.  His and Ellee's are exactly the same color.  I brought all those decorations from his nursery in SC.  He was pretty excited to see them hung today.  Of course, I doubt he remembers then, but he keeps telling me his room is "all finished" now.

Finally, I conquered our bedroom in a giant 12 hour sweep.  First I primed, then I painted, then I saw that it desperately needed a second coat, so I slopped some more on there for good measure.  I should've taken a before photo.  This room was such a dark, burnt orange.  I love it now, so soft and calm.  I also love the beach canvas paintings we bought in Bloem.  I figure if we've got to be landlocked, we might as well pretend like we're somewhere near the sea.  The quilt at the foot of our bed was a precious gift from my mama many years ago, and that's what I was trying to pull from for colors.  I bet when she made that for me when I was 13, she didn't know I'd use it as my inspiration for our bedroom in Africa!  The pressed flower frames are a few of the only things I bought on our honeymoon.... I loved them too much to pass them up when I found them in a quaint little shop in North Georgia.  I was so thankful they made it safe and sound in our suitcase over here, although I did take care to protect them as best as I could.  You can see that my nightstand is missing and has a bassinet in it's place.  I hope to have Little Miss moved to her room not too long after we come back from our conference next month.  And I know I didn't take the plastic off the lampshade before I took the picture - it won't always look that tacky.  The thing doesn't have a light bulb yet because we don't know what size to buy.....

Then I did a little decorating in our bathroom.  I bought nice towels, new bathmats for our freezing feet, and these two adorable glass paintings.

(I'm fully aware that the photos are in a silly order, but as always happens when I'm trying to upload a blog, the internet is freaking out tonight and I'm not going to try to fix it....)

Throw back photo from the day my mom finished the quilt.... 

I stepped into the bathroom to photograph that and came back to find Ellee toppled over, munching on her thumb.  Hi, sweetie!

That's all for now, folks.  Will post more when there's more to post.


Thursday, October 24, 2013

Ellee's New Room

You may remember my post about Ellee's makeshift room in Maseru.  She didn't spend much time in there.  Because it was so unbelievably cold in that house, we were stuck together like glue so she wouldn't freeze.  I had decided which would be her room in this house, but it was previously a dark orange and that wouldn't do.  No more, however, now it's a beautiful blue.

Over the weekend while we were shopping for a ton of house necessities, we picked up paint for the bedrooms.  Ellee's is the smallest room, so naturally I started with hers.  Seriously, I do not like painting.  And I really don't like painting with a 2 year old under foot and a 5 month old wanting to eat or play all the time.  I plan to tackle Kyle's room over the weekend and then find some help for the big room and the hall way because I can't handle doing all the rooms myself.  Jono helped where he could, but alas, he is back in school now and...........

So, I chose to do blue in her room despite the fact that she is female.  I know pink is the obvious choice but I couldn't bring myself to be that normal.  I had in my mind that I wanted blue with pink accents and so it is.  I love it, ya'll.  I can't believe my girl finally has a room of her own.  She is 5 months old today, better late than never.  Happy birthday, my girl!

Does this rocking chair look familiar?  It should.  It is the exact same one I had in SC for Kyle.  I had my heart set on a rocking chair for my baby girl's room but couldn't locate one anywhere here or in South Africa.  So, a very kind and generous family member shipped this one to us all the way from the US.  Happy mama!

Pretty nice view, I think.

I love that clock.  I know she can't tell time but it's so beautiful.

The dresser got a bit beat up during the move so it needs a little repair and some new paint but another day.....

Original art by Lollee

Ellee approves.

Sleep well, my beloved girl.  Mommy loves you more everyday.  I can't wait to play with you in your new room!


Thursday, October 3, 2013

Inside Our Home

I decided against waiting until we paint to post any house pictures.  It will be a while yet before we can do that because we'll have to get the majority of our paint and supplies somewhere besides Mokhotlong!  But, for now, here are pictures of the rooms I've got a handle on.  There are more, however, they just aren't in any reasonable order.  Our bedroom is still lined with suitcases, Ellee's room is also undone and the guest room is the catch all for stuff I don't know what to do with yet.  The guest room has been used as a storage room previously so it will be the largest task at hand.  I have in my head what I'd like to do in there, though, but it's last on my priority list.... Unless I get word of a visitor coming soon -- hint hint.

When you walk into the front door, you are standing in the living room.  That right there is the couch we waited and waited for.   But, I do love it!  It was the first piece of furniture we've ever bought brand new (besides rocking chairs) and I am so pleased with it.  The rug I bought in a little town here and I can't believe how well it all goes together.  The rocking chair belongs in Ellee's room but like I said, her's is currently a mess.  She's still sleeping in her basinet beside me anyhow.  I plan to paint the walls here a creamy white/beige color.  I want to keep it bright and neutral so I can change it easily if I want.  I also plan to get a canvas painted by an artist I met in Maseru and hope to add some other uniquely Lesotho things in here as time goes on and I find them.  The ceiling is a beautiful white panel board and I like it so much!  The floors are also neat, I think, but goodness are they slippery.  I expect to completely bust my bum on them before too long.  Somehow the finish makes them so slick.  We are still missing the coffee table we ordered but hope to pick it up in a couple weeks when we are back down south. 

Climbing up a couple steps, you are come into the dining room.  The wall was already that marbled teal and I do like it a lot.  I plan to keep it that way and add some brown and rustic decorations along the way.  There is a wall hanging in here with pottery on it that the owners left and I am using it as an inspiration for the rest of the room.  The hutch won't stay exactly how it is as some of those decorations belong in other rooms when I get to completing them.  But, I do think it is a lovely piece of furniture we bought from friends here in Africa.

Through that opening is the kitchen.  It is huge!  I couldn't be happier with it.  There is tons of cabinet space and loads of counter space to work on.  Jonathan fixed the water the day after we got here so the sink and washing machine are in working order!  That enormous fridge is for monthly grocery shops in either Maseru or South Africa.  I'm not sure what to do with all that space but I'm sure I'll figure something out.  The extra fridge belongs in another house and will move there soon.  I was able to bring some of my favorite little decorations from back home and I love seeing them out of the suitcase and sprinkled around my new kitchen.

Pause for baby girl adorableness.

Down a hallway is Kyle's room.  I haven't hung anything on the walls yet here, either.  But I did bring a number of the decorations from his nursery and I am so pleased with how well they match the rug we bought and the duvet I found for a steal - $5!  The rug is a great place for Kyle to play with his beloved cars and I was happy to have gotten the last one the store had to offer.  As you can see, he thoroughly enjoys it!  I plan to paint the walls in here a bluish/gray.  Besides that, his room is set.  Oh, and he needs new curtains!  Every window in the house needs replacement curtains.

And lastly, one of my favorite spaces in the house, our bathroom!  For one, it's the first time we've had our own "master suite" if you will.  Secondly, the lights in here are wacky which is great.  The switch in the room turns on the bathroom, too. That's fine except when I put Ellee down for the night, I can't very well turn the bright lights on her.  So we bought a couple oil lamps and I absolutely love the way it looks in here at night!  I enjoy showering by firelight despite the complete lack of water pressure.  We will either put in a water pump or change the water heater, whatever is necessary, but for now I am just so thankful that there is hot water! It does take forever, though, to wet, wash, rinse and condition this mop with the tiny trickle of water.  Oh well.  I like how bright it is with the white walls and tile.  I just plan to add a few navy accents on the walls when I find them.  Anyways, I love this place.  It is small but so cozy.

I know it's grainy, obviously I took it in the dark.

I'm really so tickled at how lovely the house is.  I've woken up every morning this week giddy with excitement over our new home.  There are things we will tweek and change to make it like we'd like it but over all, it is more than we ever expected.  It is such a blessing to us and to the couple we are renting from, as they were looking at having to sell for financial reasons.  It truly is the best of both worlds.  Plus, they are now our neighbors as they've built a smaller house across the street and we are already really enjoying their company.

The yard is also great with lots of fruit trees and a garden.  But, that'll be another post.  For now, I'll enjoy drinking my tea with this great view!