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Finding What’s Useful

April 12, 2018

Do you remember that I used to write a lot?  I haven’t been writing in many months, mostly deliberately, as I navigated this strange new living and working situation, known as my passport and birth country.

Getting back from Congo at the end of July last year, then [Matthew] changing jobs over the holidays, left me busy with juggling all of the changes that go along with that.  During that time, I didn’t have energy to write anything out.  But, as we got more into a groove, I realized that I had nothing worth sharing.

Our lives went from sharing the interesting and ministry aspects of living in Congo, a unique and unfamiliar place to many of you, to living in the US, working a new job outside of ministry, that led to a life that is almost boring in its normalcy (minus Matthew’s awesome job, but most of the coolest parts I can’t share myself).

I, of course, don’t mind that we’ve stepped back into something that is more familiar with the people we’re closest to, but it doesn’t exactly make for compelling blog writing.

However, I do want to pop in and say that rediscovering life in the US has been rather fun for us.  We really haven’t lived, with permanency in mind, in the contiguous 48 states in our entire marriage.  Twelve years of our hearts and minds, and often our bodies, living in strange, foreign lands, like Alaska and Congo, mean that we are putting down roots in a new way, with new technology at our fingertips that, so far, we’ve only been able to read about…very slowly…because of a slow internet connection.

So, what have we discovered with our fast internet, quick shipping, affordable appliances, and addictive smart phones?  Well, we spent the first six months overwhelmed by options.  Nothing was simple, nothing was “this is just how to do it” – everything came with a plethora of choices to make about who and how and why.  Here is brief list of the things I’ve discovered and made part of our lifestyle, because it’s right for us.

Coffee.  Life’s most essential liquid.  In the morning, anyway…  We realized before we’d even left Congo that we needed to decide how we would make our coffee.  In Alaska, we had a regular drip pot.  In France, we fell in love with our Senseo.  In Congo, we had a few methods, changing depending on the power situation, but ultimately decided there was something about espresso and steamed milk that started our day well.  But we didn’t like committing to pods and couldn’t afford the fancier models.  Enter our perfect little machine.  It makes espresso using grounds, no pods!, and it steams and adds the milk automatically and it didn’t break the bank.  It was fun research to find what coffee method would be best for us, and we are very happy with our choice.

Groceries.  For sure the biggest thing for me was how to grocery shop.  In Congo, grocery shopping was my groove and I loved the challenge of it.  Here in the US, the challenge is not being overwhelmed by choices of stores, open at all hours, offering great deals, always in stock, and that doesn’t even count the moment you walk down the aisles and need to make choices on individual products.  So, at first, I found a store I loved – a warehouse style box, but no membership, that was open 24 hours and had a huge bulk section.  I would go after the kids were in bed, shop for the month, and be done.  It was great.  Then I got pregnant and didn’t have the energy for that.  I knew about ordering groceries online, but delivery fees were high and the closest pick up location was nearly 30 minutes from my house!  Until February…then the Walmart just six minutes from driveway to parking lot, began grocery pick up and my life hasn’t been the same since.  I just order groceries online, add stuff I inevitably forget until the day of pick up, then drive down, pull up, and they load them in – no extra cost and only a $30 minimum order required (uhhh, easy).  I don’t even get out of the car?!  With four and a half kids this is amazing…life changing.  Also, the grocers are beginning to know me (is that a good thing?) because I go weekly, always at the same time.  And, think about the workload it saves…before I was loading each item into my cart, onto the belt, back into my cart (bagged myself at my previous favorite store), into my car, finally, into my house and put it away.  That’s FIVE times I needed to move each item!  Now, I only get it into the house (and with the kids, I don’t even do that myself, except the eggs and wine) and put it away.  That, alone, is worth it to me.

My weakness for my entire adult life has been meal planning.  It just isn’t something I’ve been able to conquer.  I have a variety of breakfasts that we do, lunches with the kids are easy, but dinners that aren’t repeats (I married a guy who HATES repeats, and now I’ve become like him) is really hard for me.  In Congo, I had limited options, so I didn’t feel like I could entirely control my meal planning, but here?  Oh my stars, too many choices. Instant Pot, Crock pot, freezer meals, combination of all of the above – it could go on and on…and I just can’t.  I had used a service when we were raising support four years ago called eMeals and my mom reminded me how handy it is.  And cheap.  $5 a month for someone to make up for my weakness and now it has a handy app?  Yes, please.  Most of the meals we enjoy, we end up eating more balanced, trying new things, and it makes my grocery list for me.  So, yeah, it’s also been a huge stress-saver!

And, my last little discovery for today, is renting clothes.  This one is definitely not in the necessity realm.  Further more, it makes me seem spoiled.  I am spoiled.  This is a treat and nothing less.  With pregnancy number 5 (well, number 6, but I didn’t wear maternity clothes for one), I started to outgrow my regular clothes at 12 weeks.  And as I unpacked my maternity clothes, I despaired.  They were out of season (it was still cold), as much as nine years old, very worn, and most of them too big as I was heavier in previous pregnancies.  Basically, I had unsightly clothes to wear and was going to be stuck in them for six months.  First world problem?  Yes.  Depressing anyway?  Yep.  This is our last baby, so there was no need to invest in a new wardrobe.  I got a few new summer dresses still on clearance and a much-needed new pair of maternity jeans and decided to be content.  I mean, I tried.  But then an ad popped up for a box of rented maternity clothes. Higher end, lovely pieces that I’d never actually buy but I could go through as many boxes as I could ship back and forth for a monthly fee.  I mentioned it to Matthew, just conversing, not actually thinking it was for me, and he told me I should get it, or at least try it out.  I’m now on my 5th Le Tote box and still loving it.  It’s been so nice to wear fun maternity clothes and accessories that aren’t mine and always feeling like my closet is fresh.  I am bothered that this sounds more like an ad than I would prefer, but then again, I don’t really care because I LOVE IT THAT MUCH.  I got one other pregnant friend to use it, too, and she’s very happy her last month of pregnancy was outfitted by things she didn’t have to buy as the season changed.  If you’d like to try the service (they have non-maternity, too), let me know for a free box!

Are we finding our new life easy?  Yes and no.  There are things about life here that are so easy it’s scary and I’m waiting for the hammer to drop.  But there are other things that are challenging as we still adjust or as we mourn the loss of the type of community and bonding we had with our missionary family in Kinshasa.  This lifestyle definitely suits us and we are content to be where we feel we are supposed to stay…for now…for a while…I think…for sure?

Note: The links and products are just me talking about stuff I like…with the exception of a free Le Tote box to anyone interested, I’m not being reimbursed or anything.  I wish someone would pay me, but for now I’m just gushing.

Coming in August

December 18, 2017

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New [Job] Adventure

December 1, 2017

In my last post, I announced that we would be stepping away from the work with MAF at the end of this year.  I mentioned that Matthew has a new job and that we wouldn’t be moving (yay!).  I am so very tired of moving.  But so many of you, far more than I anticipated, seem truly enthusiastic about what we will be doing next – so I didn’t want to keep you waiting!

So, truth be told, as sad as we are about leaving our MAF family, we are very very excited about Matthew’s new role and challenge.  And, even better, it is with actual family!

A little over two years ago, Matthew’s brother started a business in Portland creating adventurous room escape games – the perfect team building, fun night experience.  They launched into the escape room business head on.  A year ago they began selling their rooms to other escape room companies around the country, traveling to build the rooms, often specially designed for the other company’s theme – a historical reenactment museum has a fur trapping-themed game, Philadelphia has a Revolution-era game, etc.  They have over 20 rooms around the country, their Portland storefront is going well, and it was time to branch out, continue to do good business, and continue creating awesome rooms.  What they really needed was someone to come along and take care of the corporate business that was building up as their popularity and expertise grew.

Enter: Matthew.  As things at MAF began to take shape this fall, the projects were nearing their end, and us just feeling like the fit wasn’t what we were hoping it would be, Matthew’s brother was catching us up on his business and the needs he had for someone who knew a little this and that (or a lot) about managing a business – finances, HR, strategy, ideas, etc.  Matthew weighed this option for a long time.  Going into a new business with many little people to house and feed, working with your brother knowing that puts a different spin on the relationship, going from missionary to the entertainment industry?  Huge leaps, big considerations, and lots and lots of prayer and discussion.

However, we are really really excited.  His brother (and Dad and other brother and one significant other) all spent the week of Thanksgiving at our house and we talked of little else but the business and strategy and past experiences.  We played a few local escape rooms to get a feel for the business and the local scene.  I got to play one and had a great time and a new appreciation for the work that has been done.

So, what’s next?  Matthew will first start out by immersing himself in the existing business.  He will travel to do their upcoming builds and see this side of it, he will spend some time in Portland to get to know the staff and location, then he will get to work sorting out the complexities of the future of the company from a business standpoint.  We have a lot to look forward to and it will certainly be an adventure!

For me, it’s a new era where I’m not officially involved.  With MAF, I was a staff spouse and had active, official involvement constantly, volunteered for a lot both in Kinshasa and in the states, and kept up contact with supporters, got our prayer letters out, wrote thank you notes (not as often as I wished), and still held that official connection.  This new job won’t have me very involved, but at the same time, because it’s a family affair (Dad and other brother are both also quite involved in different ways), I’m part of the whole experience.  Mostly, I will hold down the fort here in Idaho and continue home schooling and getting better acquainted with the complexities of American life.

So, please do pray for us – and thank you for so many of you offered to pray for us through this transition.  Traveling and being apart will be new, though the hope is that it will only be a lot at first, then occasionally.  I so appreciate Matthew’s brother being amazingly attentive to our family and needs/desires/concerns as he gets Matthew up to speed on what this new role will be.  Starting out so well gives me a lot of encouragement for the future.

And, if you haven’t played an escape room game yet, gather a few friends and go do it.  I promise it will be an experience you won’t soon forget.  (Caution: these can be addicting!)

On Saying Goodbye

November 25, 2017

This is an excerpt from our current prayer letter, out this week:

In January of 2011, we interviewed at Mission Aviation Fellowship HQ for a short-term position. That short-term position has changed into a lifestyle and career choice. We have enjoyed this career – this work of raising a support team, learning a new language and culture, moving (a lot), finding a new definition of family, and meeting tremendous people all over the globe. This calling has been an amazing challenge and blessing.

However, at the end of this year, we will step away from MAF and the work. This was a difficult decision that required a lot of prayer and critical discussion with people both inside and outside the organization. The reasons are complicated, but essentially, we feel that our work with MAF has come to an end, and we are ready to move on to a new adventure.

Matthew will be wrapping up the two main projects he has been working on this fall. He was able to see through the implementation and training (and bug fixing) of a new budgeting software that went to all of the MAF programs around the world. This included training at odd hours of the day, to accommodate different time zones in Africa, Central Asia, and Indonesia, and a few proverbial fires to extinguish. His final project is to assist Mobilization (formerly known as Recruiting) with a new workflow and accompanying documentation. It has been a challenge, but hopefully a help to the worldwide ministry of MAF.

We’ve truly appreciated the years of support many of you have given toward this ministry. We know that our time was not wasted, nor was its timing accidental. We were in Kinshasa at just the times we needed to be to utilize our talents just right. God used our time in language school and on the road raising support better than we could have imagined. Meeting so many, and being part of this global ministry together, has been a fantastic experience. Thank you for choosing to be part of it and for following along.

I truly apologize if this comes as a shock – there was no way to give a sort of warning.  However, this was not a snap decision.  This whole change was the result of careful processing, thinking, weighing, discussing, and being quite open with the people around us.  It’s not exactly something to decide in asking the Internet.  However, we want to expressly thank each of you for your support, following, encouragement, and contribution.  We are so pleased with our seven years with MAF and the work we’ve done with this organization.  We’ve met hundreds of amazing people as a result of this opportunity and we look forward to seeing the work of MAF continue and staying connected with that community.

We are open to questions and comments, if you have them.  Our last official day with MAF is December 22.  This change will be big and we fully plan to keep right on updating you with what is new in our lives.  Matthew’s new job is totally different than what he has done before (and, yet, he will be using nearly all of his previous experiences to do it well) and we are super excited about it.  It certainly deserves its own separate post, so look for that soon.  We are NOT moving, and for that, I am supremely grateful!

Homeschool-ery

November 6, 2017

The number one question we’ve been asked so far since returning from Congo is, “So, are you going to continue to home school?”  It’s a fair question.  Many missionaries don’t choose to homeschool, it is simply the only option (or only good option).  However, for us, we love homeschooling.  It’s an idyllic reality of learning together, and patient children, and reading, and no arguing ever.

Wait, no, that’s not it.  It’s messy and doesn’t always happen the way it should and there is DEFINITELY arguing.  However, we have two kids who can read and do math and think, so I think so far, so good.

Joking aside, we love the freedom of homeschooling.  We really like being able to adjust our schedules.  We like being able to travel at the least conventional (thus, the cheapest) times of year.  We really enjoy adjusting the schooling level to our kids’ needs.

So far, only two of our kids are doing school, Levi (8) and Amelia (6).  They both did their own levels of kindergarten the year we lived in France, where children usually start school at 3.  With Amelia getting a heavy dose of pre-kindergarten at 3 there, she began American kindergarten with me after we arrived in Congo and she had just turned four.  Levi did the equivalent of American kindergarten at 5 in France, and then we began him in 1st grade after he turned 6 the day we arrived in Congo.

We began school that September 2015 in Congo, after unpacking just enough.  But between a Christmas in the village, moving to a new house in Kinshasa in January 2016, Piper being born and staying in the village for almost three weeks in March, and then having a new baby (post c-section), we didn’t finish the school year until the end of August.  By then, we were just two weeks out from our rest furlough last fall, so we decided to make that our “summer” break and start school again when we arrived home in Kin in December.

After Christmas last year, we began school right away, this past January.  But when we needed to begin packing, the books were the first to go in June.  Since we brought all of our possessions back to the US on the airplane, each bin was packed according to weight, so the books were all spread out to the different bags, of which we had 30!  So, unpacking for school has taken a while and we finally resumed the school year, with Amelia in 1st and Levi in 2nd, just after Labor Day.  During these “lulls,” Amelia began to read with more enthusiasm than anticipated.  She inhaled all of her readers, Levi’s readers, some of the kindergarten read-clouds, and other books we had around the house, all before leaving Congo!

I have always had both Levi and Amelia (and often Axel) sit around when we do Bible, history, science, or any other subject that wasn’t specifically on paper.  They’ve basically learned each other’s lessons, and we’ve nearly done first grade twice.

So, with all of that considered, we are finishing up this school year just before Christmas and will be able to start our next school year in January.  I will only do one curriculum level this year, putting Levi and Amelia in 3rd grade together, though still on different levels in spelling/writing and math, because Amelia is just barely six!  However, she is a very advanced reader and I’m positive she will be able to keep up and even excel if we can figure out a good balance between her six-year-old attention span and incredible intelligence.

My hope is to just chug along without a long break, finish this next school year early next fall and move right into the next level so that our schedule more closely resembles the American fall to spring school calendar.  Though many of our friends homeschool, it will be nice to be following a similar pattern.

But, then again, that’s the joy of homeschooling – the freedom of changing plans, intentional or not.

Changing Mental Gears

October 11, 2017

Last night I went grocery shopping.  It was one of those major, stock up, out-of-all-of-the-basics trips.  I filled my cart (literally, filled, could not put anything else on it – in and under were filled aisles ago – thus skipping eggs because of a risk of failure).  I got home and unpacked the bags and put things away and realized how much mental effort it was to grocery shop here.  Mainly, how much I’ve had to change gears in my head.

Many (every?) re-entry blog will talk about grocery shopping and how it’s so different when you return to your home country.  Mostly, the talk is about how it is overwhelming – the options, the choices, the cheap prices, the magnitude of the stores, the choices, the variety, the brands, the choices.  So. Many. Choices.  I’m sort of back to normal American status of choices.  I think.  My struggle last night was not LOOKATALLTHECHOICES, but avoiding the bug of over-stocking.

Oh?  The cans of green beans were ridiculously cheap?  Better buy ten of them!  Wait, no, I can come back if the four I really need runs out.

One time the most Western grocery store in Kinshasa had Classico Alfredo sauce for $2 a jar because it was about to expire.  Did I buy all ten of them?  You bet I did.  That stuff was like gold!

They have fall-themed [insert product here]?!?!  Buy them all because who else might want them!?!?  Wait, no, they go to the store, probably often.  Maybe a different store.  They probably already have it.

Two Thanksgiving seasons ago the same grocery store had Oceanspray jellied cranberry sauce for a $1 per can.  Did I buy all EIGHTEEN of them?  Yep!  Because I knew others would want them for their own fall feasts, so I shared them.  

I walked past the popcorn flavor powders and stared at them for a few minutes trying to decide their worth.  I remember movie nights long ago in Kinshasa when this was the main event.  Pilot/mechanic David would make batches of popcorn and his wife, Sandy, would spread out different flavored powders – cheese, kettle corn, Ranch, extra butter…  It was better than a movie theater!

Except, I didn’t buy any last night.  Because I’ve been lazy and poisoning us with the microwave stuff and it’s pretty darn tasty, if you ask me.

But I stared, and pondered, and reminisced.  This also could have been because it was 9pm and I was only halfway through my giant trip.

And there when a few more morsels of energy.

There are choices and varieties, and cheap costs on delicious things.  But there is also the slow realization that going to the store is easy.  The stores are almost always in stock of whatever our hearts and stomachs desire.  The stores are nearby for most of us.  My closest store is a decent-sized one exactly two minutes from driveway to parking spot.  The giant Walmart is six minutes.  My favorite (Winco, where I was last night) is ten.  And there’s a bunch in between.  I don’t need to stock up on anything.  I can hop in the car and go anytime, day or night.

To switch mentalities from one shopping culture to another is exhausting.  Every single thing: grocery item, piece of mail, advertisement, conversation is something I have to sort through – is this for me/us?  Is this something I must pay attention to, or can I ignore it?  Should I stock up on this information because it’s valuable, or can I figure it out later?

This is one of the many facets of reentry and why it’s so complicated.  And tiring.  And makes blogging seem like it’s been getting forgotten on the back burner, or fallen behind the stove.  Because by the end of each day, my brain is tired of making decisions and thinking and sorting information.  Thanks for your prayers.  It’s a fun challenge, and a healthy one, but a busy a season.

Bullet Point Update

September 14, 2017

• We are here!  We are ghosts only according to this blog!

• We have moved into our house and have finally found enough furniture to begin to settle.

• Matthew is finding a routine at work and is finding himself busy on many projects.  (For details on this, look for our prayer letter out soon!)

• The kids and I have resumed our school year and hope to finish this school year by the end of this calendar year.

• We are taking a pause from work at HQ to visit friends and financial partners in Alaska.  We found an amazing deal allowing all six of us to fly (it would normally be cost prohibitive).  We are glad to visit our former home and show the kids around.  We haven’t been since May 2013.

• Today we drove from Nampa, ID to Tacoma, WA, where we are sleeping and heading to the airport first thing in the morning (the airfare deal was only from Seattle).

• We arrive in Fairbanks tomorrow and will also make a stop in Wasilla/Anchorage/Kenai peninsula before heading back to Idaho in less than two weeks!

• Please be praying for safe travels, for health (all four kids have a slight cough as of today!), for rest, for good visits, and for God’s leading a few new people to join our team on this trip.  (Though let it be said that we want to see people we miss whether they feel led or not!)

• Someday, I hope to return to normal, regular updates!  Thanks for praying for us as we get our feet planted in the meantime!