Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Checking in...

So, thought I'd just give a public update on my whole"plan" for getting back in shape and shedding some of the flubber that has somehow collected on my body since John took this assignment. This pic of me sitting at our confrence feast seemed appropriate as so much of my life revolves around remembering what I should NOT eat (I don't mean that in a self-pitiful way, just stating fact). Some things have gone well, some things have gone poorly. Let me elaborate.

Good news first: I have been stellar at laying off the sweet stuff accept for one day a week. My kids and husband know when "it is not my free day" and they have been encouraging and supportive. John has even joined it a bit, but I assure him regularly that he has no need. Madi has even adopted the concept, and we are together embracing healthful eating and moderation. I have had a little bit of a hard time with the "eat all foods by 7p.m." because, well, some nights we eat a little later so that we can enjoy our last few bites of dinner with John sitting at the table. But I'm working on that part, and I think I'll be able to continue to do better and better about being "food disciplined"

(of course, I just finished eating a square of chocolate and a rolo or two because for us it is Halloween. But I think part of all this is learning to be moderate and not eccentric so no guilt, k?)

Bad news next: exercising here completely stinks. My running has been highly sporadic and my alternatives are pretty lame. I have indeed lifted weights with the water filled bottles, still haven't graduated to sand filled bottles but I think I'll be there soon. John does have some kind of super fit circuit he tries to do, and I lamely try to follow along. I even purchased some pretty top of the line jump ropes (one is for the kids...) so I could use that along with John on days we don't run. The pits is that the terrain here is so full of hills; good for training the race I've chosen (Robie Creek) but terrible for building a base. Every time I get a few runs in and get a little stronger the kids stay up all night or I have to stay up getting school ready and I don't get my fanny out of bed to keep up the momentum. The "walk for 30 minutes each day" is pretty near impossible unless I walk in circles around our 300 yard subdivision. No chance of taking the kids on a leisurely walk out in the neighborhood, security is an outrageous issue in this city. So that part has pretty much stunk, I've desperately even considered a treadmill (out of the question for sure, but walking from my front door to the security gate takes like 3 minutes, I'd have to do that 10 different times to equal the 30 required minutes and by the time I'd reached the gate for say the third or fourth go the security guard would call the police on me for weird behavior-not that running around this place with 6 kids isn't weird behavior to begin with :0)

Needless to say I've not donned the super-cool reward jacket I was supposed to have triumphantly sported this week.

Guess I'll have to give it another go.

Are you in? Have you been working at this with me? How is it going for you? I'd love to hear. I figure tomorrow is November 1st, no time like the month of gratitude and super large servings to stay in control and improve my physical fitness and health. Take a look through this blog archive and find "the plan". Then print it out and stick it on your fridge, in your brain and into your life. Let's do this thing.

Join me, we'll make Thanksgiving a free day for sure.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

A great Experience

Saturday was a huge day for our church all across Africa. Every congregation, no matter how large or small, was charged with finding a local service project which would be done during the hours of 9 a.m.-1p.m. The project is called “Helping Hands” and was put in place by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints” (see for more on our church). This project was announced literally the morning after we arrived here in Johannesburg, and I felt huge excitement over the fact that we would be on this continent to participate.

I love huge things (accept Texas, I don’t love Texas), and this undertaking was huge.

Our local congregation had asked a friend of mine to take charge of our project. After lots of searching for something that would help revitalize the local community Jan and her committee found a boarding school for kids with severe learning and behavioral issues. Most of the students have experienced intense personal trauma, many have seen family members killed in front of them. Some of course have been the victims of physical or sexual abuse. These kids come to school every Sunday night, after a weekend of living in the hell that is their regular lives, and for two or three days the teachers try to help them “decompress”. Real teaching and learning happens for another couple of days and then the kids go back “home” for the weekend. It all starts again on Sunday night.

The school was functioning well, but really needed some tender loving care. Supplies were severely limited, and the surroundings very sterile for children to live in.

Our congregation sprang into action. Donations were acquired from the community. Paint, grass, plants, bedding, curtains, toys and clothing all found its way to the school. Church members were also very generous, donating much needed supplies like bath towels, toothbrushes and the like, so the kids could have permanent toiletries left at school. Carpets were found to replace those worn through. Water heaters found “jackets” which were insulators to help the school save on electricity costs. Sweets and treats were found so children would find something sweet on their pillow when returning to school.

We had only one day to transform the school as best we could. Some in our congregation who were artists went to town painting murals on the dormitory walls. Some who were craftsmen skillfully hung much needed hooks for the kids to have a place for jackets and towels. Even the children of the primary were assigned to sort the sweets into treat bags, and painted boxes the students would use to organize their toys and belongings. Women were put to work filling toiletry bags and sorting toys and clothes. A group of men dug a garden in the pouring rain, planting beautiful flowers for the children to enjoy year after year. Bathrooms were scrubbed, walls painted, new bedding placed on worn mattresses. After hours and hours of work things were coming together. All this was done in the pouring rain, with dozens of children doing their best to be helpful. The effort was monumental.

In the end each of us played a small part in a great task (my part was particularly small since Lucy would not let me put her down and Molly had wanderlust…lost her half a dozen times at least. I was sent out on errands, driving our rented car to the grocery store for forgotten supplies. I ended up with two flat tires and a sick husband trying to jack up the car and pump up the spare, but I digress…). Sunday at church the ward members were happy. Sore and sniffling from hard work and cold rain, but full of unity and gratitude for an opportunity to serve children they would never meet, and in doing so be part of an Africa wide effort to renew, revitalize, and restore local communities. We as the resident non-residents were blessed to play a small part in a large experiment, and even more blessed to witness the truth that is “When ye are in the Service of your fellow beings, ye are only in the service of your God.”

Monday, October 29, 2007

Searching Joburg

In our desperate search for Halloween costumes with character we drove to downtown Johannesburg on a Saturday morning. This is quite a daring feat, as literally all the white people of this city flee its center come the end of the business work day. We, brave or naive, entered on to the main market street with all the kids in tow, amidst a sea of colorful faces and eager merchants, looking for some pieces of the kids' Halloween costumes and a unique experience for our children.

It isn't really "safe" to walk around this part of Joburg with a camera out, limiting one's view of unsavory shoppers. But as we walked away from our down town trip I grabbed a quick shot of the kids with John and Trust. Madi is walking directly in front of Bryn carrying the day's treasure; and Ndbele blanket for her costume (see the finished costume in previous posts). In my bag we carried a Scottish kilt which was, surprisingly, a part of my own costume, and some brightly striped fabric to be used in the making of Molly's "fancy dress up" for Halloween. 90 minutes after entering the bustling shopping area we could declare our visit a successful excursion for our family. A shopping experience to remember for us, and for all the other shoppers who witnessed our large and very white family perusing the shops on Market street.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Being Taken

This post is about Halloween costumes and being fleeced. These two subjects are highly related this year as we were fleeced by the souvenier merchants at the market while shopping for Halloween costumes...

Now some of you may get that feel good all over feeling when you walk into a market in a place like Mexico or China and know you are in for some good negotiating. I have some friends who have made dickering an art, and are almost able to lower the price of their groceries at Target because of this skill, let alone buy beautiful silver platters in the markets of Mexican towns for pennies, pennies I tell you.

I am not one of these talented negotiators, because I just cannot stand to argue with people. All I want if for them to be fair with me, and in return I'll try to pay them what their items are worth and help them put food on their family's table (the favorite line of the merchants in South Africa is "please help me to support my family today" ugh the guilt). I hate bargaining, I hate it. And this makes for trouble when you walk up to a Zulu guy and try, in your very AMERICAN accent, to get a fair price for something like, let's just say, zulu bead work or a rasta tunic.

Here is how the negotiations went;
"how much for the shirt"
"I make a special price for you my dear...300 rand" says the merchant. He is speaking about a cotton piece of fabric, sewn by machine and so simple that I could probably have done it myself. The guy tells me his special price is about 40 bucks. He is fleecing me in public. I feel violated...

"that shirt is not worth so much...and I want to be fair with you. But you've got to be fair with me guys" I say, as now it is not just one merchant, but we have loads of them and I'm starting to keep an eye on my wallet for fear one of them will secretly snipe it while I'm "negotiating"...

"truly my dear, you won't find this at this price" Yeah, I'll find it for lots less once I get home to the thrift store, buddy.

"I see thework was not done by hand. The fabric was purchased overseas, not made here in Africa. I want to be fair with you but I can tell by the work that it is not worth 300 rand, it is fair to offer you more like 150 (just over 20 bucks)". Says I.

"oh, My dear, you must help me support my family...I cannot take so little. You won't be able to find it anywhere for that price." says the merchants in unison

"but perhaps I can make it for that price, because I can see that the fabric would be available to me in Joburg" I'm feeling mad because I know this is happening as a result of my "foreign-ness" and I also know that I"m not going to run around Joburg for fabric to somehow stitch a halloween costume for my kid...I'm gonna buy this shirt from this guy and I'm trying not to make it the most regrettable purchase of my life...

"I can give you no less than 250 rand" the merchant smiles

"you are taking advantage of me" I say
"you will be happy with the shirt my dear"

I hand him the money and walk away furious. Mad at myself for actually paying this amount for a stupid shirt. Even more frustrated that the reason I paid it was because I look and sound different from a South African, and that means to the merchants that I am dripping with money...

uh, I'm not dripping with money. And if I were, I'd be happy to "help support a family" with the money I was dripping with. But not if it meant being lied to about the quality and value of items at the souvenir market; I'd be feeding orphans or building houses for township families. Not buying overpriced beads and shirts for Halloween!

I got taken I tell you, Absolutely taken to the cleaners....

Costumes and Candy

If you’ve followed this blog for the lat year or so you have some idea of my loathing for Halloween. I think the money spent on useless sugar for that one holiday could probably end world hunger. I think the time and energy spent on sewing/rummaging/gathering costumes for multiple children if put to better use could probably bring world peace. But, try as I might, my kids still beg for Halloween, and because I am going for that "she was a good mom" line on my gravestone, I'm still delivering it.

This year it is no different. South Africa is just now waking up to the Halloween concept-enough that you can find made in china masks and trick or treat buckets and novelty stores and party suppliers. But not enough to allow for kids to safely trick-or-treat or to dress up in something non-devilish/Frankenstein-ish or witch-ish. So this year's Halloween has taken time, creativity, energy, an over abundance of enthusiasm and, did I mention, time...

Check us out. Our boys are classic Rastafarian dj's thanks to the African novelty shop in the mall and the guys at the souvenir market by the Hartabeesport Damn. The girls have a much more interesting costume array, each – including me - dressing as a different African tribe indigenous to South Africa. I'll let the kids explain their costumes on their blog so you can see it from their perspective. Let's suffice it to say that we ran around all of Johannesburg so that the kids could have costumes that, in the end, I wouldn't mind lugging home in my suitcase for them to share what they've learned about Africa with the folks back home.

Oh, and we threw a party too. A huge party it turns out. We had around 50 kids in attendance, and many of those kids brought their parents too. Apparently lots of people in South Africa want to see what an American Halloween is really like. Funny we spent our Halloween dressed as people from the tribes of South Africa.

A party

This Halloween brought a lot more than candy and late night stomach aches to our family. We enjoyed a chance this year to "treat" our South African friends to a holiday that is truly American. As a family we planned a party for the kids we'd met through the neighborhood and through church. We thought we'd plan a few traditional games (bob for apples, decorate sugar cookies, ghost in the graveyard and donut on a string) and then let the kids "trick or treat" through the house by knocking on all the bedroom and kitchen doors. I stressed to my children that the party would not be possible unless they were willing to run the games and pass out the treats. The party wasn't "for" my kids but was to be given "by" my kids. This was my secret purpose; to help my children feel they could contribute in some way (even in a Halloween way) to the culture they were experiencing here in South Africa.

My kids moaned right at first, complaining that they wanted to trick-or-treat and they'd miss out on the games they weren't in charge of. But as the weeks went on and we went out to find supplies for each of their assignments (Bryn; donuts and bob for apples, Madi; cookie decorating of course, Mason; ghost in the graveyard, Porter; assistant to whoever's game he was attending) they became more and more willing to work as I'd asked. The week of the party we shopped and decorated and planned and baked. 60 sugar cookies from scratch, and the nearest thing to a halloween cookie cutter was a star...(I don't think we are in Kansas any more Toto...)

Party day came and the kids were as excited for Halloween as ever. All the planning for costumes and parties; it was buzzing in our house. Rain poured down all day, making difficult our outside plans for Ghost in the Graveyard and bobbing for apples, but the kids thought fast; we used the empty garage for the running game and modified it to "dead man wake" that the kids play on the trampoline. Bob for apples had to happen on the rain as the bin we'd purchased was leaky and we couldn't leave it on the tiled covered porch...but other than that our plans went forward.

The fun of all of this was the attendance. We had expected when we started that we'd have lik 10 kids and maybe 5 moms. But word spread fast, and we ended up with around 50 kids and probably 15-20 moms; even some dads came-one of those dads being JOHN! We were so excited to hear about an hour before the festivities began that John was skipping out of work to witness the fun. He was our photographer and cheerleader, and the whole deal was a lot more fun with him around.

With only 45 minutes before "start time" I hadn't quite finished all my preparations. Fortunately, our friend Evie came to the rescue as usual, along with Trust's wife Gracious who had also made a surprise appearance. The two of them put out the food and helped to finish dressing the babies in their costumes while I dressed in my costume and dug out the camera for photos of the decorations and kids. Then the guests began to arrive

Party time was complete pandemonium, but in a good way. We split up the guests according to age and had them rotate through each activity in 15 minute shifts. Then everyone met on the covered porch to eat and last we did trick or treat. Parents chatted and kids begged to take home helium balloons and uncarved pumpkins. The chocolate fountain lent to me by a friend (thanks Jan!) was a huge hit at the food table, everything from strawberries to cookies to fingers were dipped in South Africa's finest flowing chocolate...

Trick or treat was the best; with kids banging on the doors of our house in packs yelling "trick or treat" and us loading down their goody bags with "sweets". Obviously this doesn't happen often in South Africa, the kids could hardly believe their eyes to have handfuls of candy at their disposal as they walked from our home into their cars. I'm sure parents were surprised as well; but maybe not in a good way.

As all the kids and parents left my heart was filled with pride in my own children. Never once did they ask to leave their "posts". No complaints about missing out on the other games. No resistance to giving the party instead of receiving it. They even helped clean up! I was a proud mom in those moments as I saw Bryn hollering "ready, set go" and Madi writing names on the plates of the "littles" so they'd remember which cookie to take home. Mason was stellar stuck in the garage and explaining complicated rules to foreigners. John was a terrific photographer, Porter and generous host (shared his own trick or treats with a friend) and Molly and Lucy didn't melt down at all but worked the party crowd with smiles and sweetness. For all the loathing I have of this holiday it was the best way we've ever spent a Halloween

Happy Haunting everyone!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

A gesture of Friendship

Since our arrival, I have tried hard to include our friend Evie in our family as much as I felt appropriate. One of the simple ways I've wanted her to know we think fondly of her is to share our meals. When we make lunch, we make some for Evie (and Trust too). Whenever we dish up for dinner we ask Evie if she'd like some. Some nights she declines, but most of the time she is keen to try our "American food" and it is fun to hear her comments on our simple cooking the next morning (it was NICE...that is my favorite response from her!).

Well, Evie came to me on a day after I'd been to the grocery store and asked if she could cook some Xhosa food for me. How exciting! How kind! I asked what she would make for us and she tried to describe it to me, then she proceeded to her little apartment and began her work. I scurried around and gathered the ingredients she needed and rushed them over, knowing full well that she would use her own ingredients at great expense on her humble salary. She gratefully accepted my potatoes, my tomatoes and my onion, smiled at me and said, "this is going to be NICE".

A few hours later the delicious smell of Evie's cooking wafted through the house. We were starving and licking our chops for a go at the lovely smelling dish she brought to our table. SAMP. This is Samp. It is a stew of sorts with the main ingredient being corn. The corn is purchased in large plastic bags, and it looks like our American Indian maize corn. Large kernels of dried corn, rinsed and soaked and rinsed again, and stewed with beans, some vegetables and if you are wealthy some meat as well. It is a simple dish, made with great pride and enjoyed with enthusiasm among many of the African people.

As the kids and I sat enjoying this meal I pondered on Evie's act of friendship. She mentioned as I ate that she had wanted to cook for us before, but she was afraid we "wouldn't like..." so she didn't. How brave of her to step over her fear and offer herself through her cooking. What a kind gesture of Friendship. How very NICE.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Thinking Ahead

I'd generally like to lynch the merchants in the States who put up Christmas Decorations right next to the Halloween candy in the stores. It is flat wrong to be thinking about how to "Deck the Halls" when your mind is racing with how to dress up the crew for School parades without blowing the budget you'd like to spend on the Christmas presents. Even we have combed the street markets and tourist traps for trappings which our kids will dawn at a Halloween gala we have planned for our neighbors and friends, and it has been an exhausting endeavor in a country that knows no TARGET.

But, truth is, we are spending Christmas in South Africa this year. An exciting and surprising prospect. And with the trimmings and trappings already being laid out in the shops of Joburg, I can see I"m gonna need a little help to get in that holiday spirit come December 1.

Let's just say the decorating motife here in SA isn't exactly, well, Pottery Barn. It is more, well, Wal Mart. But with Pottery Barn prices. I just can't bring myself to buy any of it. None of it all.

We'll pick up a little tiny fake tree and adorn it with a string of lights, we'll even hang ornaments made of zulu beads and real "authentic" SA tourist garb. Heck,I even saw some amarylis blooming in the garden shop so we'll even have something living to decorate with. But what about the rest of this cinder block house? How is it gonna look like Christmas in here, with all the zebra rugs hanging on the walls and the peach tiles and paint...

I have an idea that I REALLY want to execute. Something that will brighten up the house without breaking the bank. Something I can reuse later, and therefor justify. Sad thing is, it's gonna take your help.

Have you seen those fabric flag banners being sold in uppity catalogs? No. Well look here:

I want to make loads of these, but with fantasic fabrics that have green, red, white and even a little black. Here are some fabric ideas:

and another:

and more:

Can you imagine the possibilities? The flags would be so simple to put together, they'd fit in my suitcase so I could use them again and again. Our friend Evie is a master seamstress (she can do anything!) and is always looking for extra work. She'd be able to whip these up in no time, and I could even afford her going rate!

Trouble is, the only fabric I can find in SA is horrible. Really, if it isn't a cool african print it is really horrible.

So, can you help me find some great fabrics? Send me the links so I can buy it online and have it sent via my sister or John's office? Help me, please, to deck the halls.

I know I'm thinking too far ahead, and you are ready to lynch me through the world wide web, but if you can find a minute to help a friend I'd be ever so thankful to you

and I'd think of you each year when I pull out these flags and deck my halls.
In South Africa and even beyond.

Thinking Ahead


Cereal eaten by a young toddler, hmmm; perhaps not just yet.

...And the smile of a devious 3 year old...could she be more darling? Underneath that sweet smile are the hidden vocal cords of death, producing screeches of an unearthly nature appropriate to Halloween terror...

Monday, October 22, 2007


We officially entered the Real Estate market some time this last week. That doesn't mean we are putting any offers down in good old Dallas, but it does mean we actually contacted a Real Estate Agent and are narrowing down the "where do we want to live" and the "what do we want in our house" kinds of things. John and I sat down and rummaged through the files and clippings I've saved over the years to kind of lay out the rooms we want to have and began the "large yard vs. lots of kids" debate that we always go through when we buy homes. Funny we've done this enough to have those types of conversations. John says he feels like we've bought houses but never gotten it "just right". I know he refers to my incessant desire to have things just to my liking; white trim and white cupboards in the kitchen. A terrific mud room and great neighbors. A huge yard that somehow doesn't need huge maintenance. Poor John, my handsome prince feels like he's never delivered on these dreams, that he's never gotten the house thing "done right."

But in the scheme of it all it has been "just right" every time. What would Dallas have been like without our awesome neighbors Evans and Judy helping to grandparent while we settled into life away from family? I wouldn't be a complete person whithout knowing Laura Asay. What would we have ever done without our Hobble Creek neighbors and friends? Life just wouldn't have been right without the Rush Triathlon girls or Diane Day at my back fence. How could I manage this life without Jenna or Susie or Linda Moss? How could I have ever been happy in Salt Lake City without Holly or Macy or Annette or DeAnne or Judi or any of our great neighbors there(Natalie, Trish, so many others...)?

I know we haven't had perfect white trim, amazing natural light or lovely window seats in our homes so far. Perhaps the architecture or the ceiling heights or the yard sizes haven't been a dream to me. But what is a house whithout friends to visit it? What is a yard without someone to chat in it?

I think my handsome prince is wrong. We've had it just right every time.

The worry, then, is how to get it right this time. Do we want 4 acres and a pool, or do we want to live where the kids can run to a friend's house in a tight fitting sub-division? Do we want a short commute with sketchy schools and a ward that might not have youth programs to match the ones we left, or do we want John to drive that long 45 minutes home so our kids live in a haven of scouting programs and achievement days? It is always the question-what do we trade, which things do we set aside in favor of which others...

It's usually the white trim and window seats that lose out. And that is well and good. Now that it's official, I wonder where we'll land and what kind of house we will make into our home.

Me and Lula-o Down by the School Yard...

Thought you'd like a taste of our every day life...

Friday, October 12, 2007

Conference Weekend

Twice each year I feel homesick. Twice. I'm not talking the kind of homesickness where you wish you could hang out with your siblings and parents; I feel that kind of homesickness a lot more often. I'm talking about the kind of homesickness where you want to be in the home where you were a kid, the home that you grew up in.

Those two bouts of longing come the first weekend of October and the First weekend of April. They have everything to do with my favorite family tradition; Conference brunch.

For those of you unfamiliar with my religious background I invite you to learn about it by going to and clicking on basic beliefs to learn more. The gist for this post is to say that twice each year the entire body of our church gathers to hear from the general church leadership. As we believe in the same organization that existed in Christ's primitive church, we call our leadership apostles and prophets. And we do believe that these are holy men, who are special witnesses of the Lord Jesus Christ. You can view hear sermons (or "talks" as we call them) by going to and clicking on October 2007 general conference to listen.

The conference is held over two days and consists of 4 general sessions and 1 session for men aged 12-18. A special session is held for women the week prior to conference. When you live in a different time zone, you go to your local chapel and watch conference as it is broadcast by satellite. In many cities (even here in Joburg if you have the right satellite feed) you can watch the conference from your home. This is the common practice in Utah where I grew up.

As a kid, conference weekend was only a little different from every other weekend of our existence. Saturdays were still busy, my parents kept their retail lamp shop open, my siblings had sports games to participate in and I often held a part time job and had to work. We tried to spend time listening and watching, but life was busy.

But Sunday was a different story. My parents did not have to participate in their regular church assignments and could sleep in (after helping us deliver our newspapers that is). We laid around in our pajamas for the morning and the house was filled with calm music and quiet sounds. We were all together.

The first session of conference began at 10 a.m., and after its conclusion we'd have a Sunday brunch consisting of eggs, bacon (a huge treat at our house) and Bisquick waffles. The waffles were crunchy on the outside, and tasted magnifique to me when smothered with butter and syrup. Nothing posh, but a set menu that a never changed. Having just finished watching very amazing and powerful men encourage us all to become more Christ-centered we were inclined not to fight with each other, and we even said "please pass" before asking for another waffle or serving of eggs. Truly, home was heaven on earth during conference brunch. After we ate we'd all scurry around doing dishes, trying to clean things up before the 2p.m. session began. No T-vo to help us delay the start in those days, just had to be done in time to hear the opening prayer.

After many years of this tradition I moved away with my new sweet husband and our first born son. And conference came around, and I was utterly sick for my home and our Bisquick waffles. I thought I missed the food, and my dear prince charming who wanted to help me through my grief made me lovely waffles and delicious bacon. The meal was an upgrade; batter made from scratch, bacon thick cut and hickory smoked, truly an act of caring and sacrifice for a grad student husband to splurge on his home sick wife.

But the meal, delicious as it was, could not bring the spirit of brotherly and sisterly kindness I yearned for in the home where I was young. I wept over my waffles as my poor desperate husband clung to my hand and my little boy threw his bacon to the ground.

Time went on, and six months later we tried it all again. Delicious waffles, lovely bacon and even some friends to share it with. Still, conference Sunday morning found me weeping in my kitchen as I helped whip the egg whites for the batter.

It has been over 13 years since those first conference Sundays away from home. And still I feel that longing. I am better now than I have ever been. I get the crying done on Saturdays in the privacy of my bedroom. It still bewilders my beloved who has learned to hold me tight as I weep and remind me that this too shall pass. How lovingly he tries to understand this personal longing for the loving unity I felt as a child in our tiny home so long ago.

With six children of my own and new conference brunch traditions (sticky buns anyone?) I find solace in giving this tradition to my children. I hope as they look back on the rituals of their childhood they'll think fondly of conference Sundays. Not because of delicious foods or even the chance to sleep in and watch church on TV, but because in those Sundays of spiritual instruction when we as a family allow a full measure of Christian love to enter fully into our home that feeling pervades our every action. Our prayers reach a little higher, our kindness toward one another is increased. Our food even tastes better(bisquick waffles on any other day are just your average waffle, ya know?). It is those conference occasions when we can believe the phrase that the most sacred place on earth can be within the walls of our own home. Certainly it was for me on those special Sundays of my childhood. There was no place on Earth I'd rather have been, because the unearthly goodness in our home was so close at that time to Heaven.

Being a Domestic

If you live in South Africa and your profession involves caring for the home and "necessities" of another family then you are called a "Domestic". I thought it might be interesting to show any passers by just what it takes to be a domestic, and to pay tribute to Evie, the woman who "came with the house" and now is a very regular part of our daily lives.

Each day Evie goes around after us and cleans things up. That is what she does. It is, as she says, "her duty". I can hardly get a washcloth wet to wipe up my spilled milk (yes mom after I used the paper towel first) without Evie beating me to it. If I leave the little girl's pajamas on the floor after crawling around with them to get them dressed each morning then they are folded neatly and placed under their pillows. I can't keep up with this cleaning machine. She is incredible to me.

And she has to do it the hard way. Just look at the photos of our laundry. Here is the process;
1. Evie brings all the dirty laundry down from the 3 bins in the bathrooms upstairs. Said laundry is deposited on the floor of the scullery. Then it is sorted, as best as possible, by color. SMALL loads are placed in the SMALL washing machine, stains having been treated or clothes having been put in the soaking sink to get out those hard to cure jelly marks on Lucy's shirts.

2.As loads come out of the washer they go into a dryer, one that must be pulled out from under the folding counter so as to have ventilation. The dryer works intermittently for a short time, and then the clothes are removed, while still wet.

3. Those wet clothes then find a drying spot out on the line, or draped over the bushes or even in the trees where the African sun takes the moisture mostly away.(thus my cute black skirt is slowly but surely turning into a cute grey skirt).

4. Finally, all laundry (and I mean ALL, including underwear and socks) comes back into the scullery to be ironed. Did I mention that ALL of the laundry is ironed?

5. Once folded into neat stacks, Evie USED to deliver said stacks to their proper shelves and cupboards in the bedrooms upstairs. I put the brakes on this one, and now Evie leaves the folded stacks on the folding counter and the children who wear said laundry put it away in it's proper place (I had to find something for them to do to help!).

Evie does this with other chores through out the day. She washes the dishes by hand instead of in the dishwasher. She mops the floors on hands and knees. She cleans the carpets if we go away over night. She washes the windows (using a vinegar concoction and wiping the windows dry with old newspapers) and she beats all the rugs. She darns our socks if they have a hole in them, and she would cook for us if I asked her to as well. On top of these skills Evie can make Lucy smile and giggle and find the girl's ballet tights when they get lost in their cupboards.

Yep, Evie is a domestic for sure, a domestic Goddess! An amazingly hard working individual and a great addition to our family during our time in South Africa.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007


We have a daily visitor that is somewhat of an alarm clock in our home. He’s been coming to our window for over a month now, and never misses a day. His routine involves pecking away at the windowpane which is directly across from our kids’ rooms. His peck peck peck wakes Lucy and me, and as I lie in my bed and think of facing the day I am amazed by the behavior of this bird and ponder on his purpose.

At first we thought the guy was looking for food. We had seen that the blinds, which cover the window, have a beading on the bottom which to him may have looked like breakfast. But then we uncovered the window, clearing the blinds away and still the bird came back. As I observed him morning after morning, I could finally see what draws him to the window to attack each day.

He is afraid of his own reflection.

The window had been tinted, so the outside appears mirror-like. Apparently the bird has made his nest nearby, and out of fear for an enemy he pecks away at the bird he sees, but the bird he sees is none other than himself. I’m sure to Mr. feathers the reflection is terrifying; a foe who is capable, resilient and strong. A formidable enemy, who could threaten his comfortable way of life, even change the dynamics of his family structure. Something to be feared and fought. Our fear-filled feathery alarm clock exhausts him self each day in the pursuit of victory over the version of himself he sees in our mirrored window.

I wonder how many of us spend our life times fighting the reflection in us. I have a quote that is usually framed on my wall by C.S. Lewis. In his statement he puts forth that we, if we truly could see our divine potential, would be strongly tempted to worship our own reflections. He isn’t stating that we’d become vain; he is showing us the view that our spiritual potential reaches that of divinity. And that if we could see who we really are, our divine qualities would merit admiration and wonder.

But that thought is terrifying isn’t it? If we have the potential within us to have divine natures, that would mean that we would need to act with divine attributes. Attributes like charity, forgiveness, compassion and for me a sense of humor. We’d have to stand up for what’s right and in doing so often we’d have to stand alone. Sometimes we’d have to walk away from situations that seem enticing but wouldn’t become one who is striving for greatness. How frightening to accept such responsibility. How tempting to pretend that the real attributes demanded by our natures are antiquated, naive and ineffective in the sophisticated clamor of our lives.

Perhaps for most of us, when we catch glimpses of who we really are, instead of pursuing our qualities to that end we turn away, or even fight, the glory that lies within us. Pecking away at ourselves we allow all kinds of self talk and low living to taint our reflection until it is dim enough that we don’t see who we really are any more.

But it doesn’t change the reflection- down deep those worthy possibilities are still within us. We just peck away at the reflection day after day, dimming its brightness and exhausting ourselves by fighting the true nature within.

So tomorrow morning when I hear the peck peck peck of a sorry little animal who fights his own reflection I will try hard not to peck peck peck away at myself. Instead perhaps I’ll look down deep for the person I really am, and I’ll try a little harder to live like that person should live and become what that person should become.

Extra Murals and the Like

I began a blog post that was lengthy in explaining how our daily routine is panning out around here now that we are entrenched in school, but it was full of self-pity when I really have no right to it. So, I’m going to start again☺

Let’s just say that I can’t diagram a sentence. How inadequate would you feel if your 7th grader came to you and read a sentence out of his book and then identified one of it’s parts as the predicate and asked you to confirm that he was right, and you had to look him in the eye and say, “I can’t remember what a predicate is…can you tell me?” The most pitiful thing about this interchange is that I had read in his grammar book the night before all about predicates just so I’d be able to answer his questions when he came, but in my usual poor-student mindset I could not remember (or more correctly had not understood) what I had read. I feel like I should make myself a dunce hat and sit in the corner with it during class…

Overall, let’s just say that the terror I felt over sending my “big things come in small packages” sized son into the world of hormone raging middle schoolers has been replaced with the terror that when he enters the halls of his new middle school he will not know what he must to pass, and that it is all due to the fact that as a freshman in high school I just could not figure out where to put the line in the sentence and which word to underline twice and why…pathetic.

As far as my other homeschool students are concerned, they are reluctantly plugging away. When John comes home at night and asks me how school went that day I can always site an instance of tears or yelling (so far the yelling has not been done by me, so far…) But they seem to grasp the materials well and we usually get through the school day by 1:30 or so, sometimes even earlier. I’ve over booked the kids with activities (all are taking tennis once a week, the girls are taking ballet each twice a week and the boys each take karate from our church bishop once a week as well). I’m still figuring out the piano lessons thing but I’ll have it nailed by next week. I’m not letting years of hollering for them to play the right note go to waste now over the chance to look at lions and tigers through the windows of our car. The activities are a way for the kids to be out of the house, and for their bodies to be educated along with their minds. It is sad to say, but there is no park around that is safe to go play in; no open space where they can run or kick a soccer ball save the tiny plot of land just inside our security gate. So, instead they have “extra-murals” as all the Joburg-ers call them. Sports and things inside that help their bodies have exercise and let them socialize with someone besides me!

So, we are settling. It is a bit crazy that now we are kind of finding a routine John and I are already calendaring our exit from South Africa. Pretty much decided we are leaving here February 8. The time will fly. We are already at October, and having been a mom for some years now I know how time just condenses between Halloween and Christmas. Soon after New Year’s we’ll be packing our things. Then this adventure will be through.

I hope by then I can identify the adverb in a sentence. And that there is some park in Texas (or maybe just a dang big back yard behind our new house) where my kids can run and play.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

On the World Wide Web

Thanks to iWeb the Blue Rhino Private school has successfully (if not feebly) launched it's school web-site. You can view said site by using the url;

I'm a total novice, so be patient with the site. But, if you click on the pic of the kids sitting in the tree, it should link you to our photo album, and you ought to be able to see lots of photos of the kids adventures. Give it a try and let us know what you think!

A belated Revision

I am finally not rude any more. Finally. At least I have taken a great step forward out of rudeness. You see my blog has gone through a revision, and now you can actually view the names and links of other bloggers whose writing I digest on a regular basis.

I have felt for some time like a person who, having been invited to a fantastic party and attended with great enjoyment, has failed to extend in like kind an invitation to my host, for a party of my own. These other bloggers have very generously included my blog as a link on theirs, and because of my internet ineptitude I had not done the same (a great Thank you to John who basically had to re-write the computer code so that my particular blog template could actually show these links; a man of kindness and generosity is he!).

Most of these bloggers are my siblings. Some of them are my offspring. My favorite one is my husband. There are a few other blogs I read regularly, but these, listed now in the lower left portion of the screen, are the blogs that let you see more clearly who I am and how I tick. These other bloggers are a huge part of why and how I live my life. By reading them you will have a better glimpse into me. And because I know them so well, I can invite you to Come and join their party. And I will not be rude to them any more :)

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

That's Me!

The local grocery store has a bakery in house called "Katie's Kitchen" No kidding! They sell hundreds of loaves of white bread each day with my name on each loaf! I am famous in a country where no one knows me, how cool is that! And not famous for wearing a certain kind of clothing or having a cool new watch (BILLIONS of billboard adds here for omega watches, what is that about? Famous people looking sexy over a watch in a country where 90% of the population can't even afford to live in a real house? Give me a break...) but famous for keeping people fed and even warming their hands and stomachs with fresh baked things to eat. That is something to show off, I've never been famous before, and certainly not for keeping people well fed!

It is amazing to see the bakery in action. They have this huge open kitchen, with the bakery workers buzzing around taking things out of ovens and putting them on those big industrial cooling racks and the like. Then half the workers stand in front of a scale, and a very long line forms-called a "queue" where all the customers stand to tell the workers what they want to buy. These loaves of bread are stacked in a wall of baskets where people can help themselves, but they still have to stand in the queue to have the bread put into a bag and weighed, then the scale prints out a sticker with the price and that is stuck to the bag. You can request that your loaf be sliced for free, but of course that would have mutilated my name so I opted for the whole piece of soft white deliciousness to remain in tact.

Bread isn't the only thing sold at Katie's, you can buy donuts (not as good as in the states), savory things like chilly filled tarts, sweet pastries and eclaires and hot dog or hamburger buns. Standing in front of Katie's Kitchen made me feel good all over. As if I alone were responsible for the line up of customers waiting to be fed by the home baked goodies in the baskets and on the tables.