Monday, June 30, 2014

Compassion Joys: June

Holy cannolli, the year is half over! Here are this month's Compassion Joys!

 Compassion Family


We received several letters this month-  one each from Brenda, Said, Patricia, Victor, Mary, Caleb, Elisha, Tasya, and Jayid! Several of the kids sent drawings, and Victor and Mary wrote really sweet notes about how we are all one big family and they've been praying for my mother in law Denise, who was diagnosed with kidney cancer and had surgery earlier this year. Mary's letter also included a bonus photo of her with her mom! They are holding a check for Mary's school fees, which was a gift from her financial sponsor.


This month we celebrated two birthdays- Kevenel turned 8, and Erick turned 5!

New Kids!

This month brought three new correspondence children again! Two I was kind of expecting- the third was a surprise! Say hello to Reine and Omar in Burkina Faso, and Erick in Ecuador!


There have been lots of opportunities to share Compassion this month with random people I've encountered, including several patrons at the library where I work, and a few sales clerks! I'm really proud of my mom because she has also been talking to people about Compassion as well- she was excited to tell me the other day that the girl who helped her at Walgreens (where she was buying folders to send to her kids) is a Compassion sponsor. This employee was apparently unaware that you can send stuff like that to your kids- hopefully her sponsor child will be getting a letter and maybe a gift sometime soon!

Sweet Greetings from India and Indonesia

It's time once again for Mail Call Monday!

When I started writing this post, I had only received one letter for the week. I went out to get the mail, though, and there was another letter!

The first letter was from Jayid in India.

I have experienced some interesting things from Jayid's center since Compassion's letter writing changes were implemented a few years ago. Usually his letters are form letters (he is of the right age for that) and everything is written in English. Before the changes, I saw Hindi writing on the letters from Jayid, then the translations. Anyway, for this letter I received just an open format letter, which is a little unusual since he has about three more years to go before he's supposed to write those sorts of letters. Also, on the front there was a tiny bit of Hindi writing- what looks to be about three words, if they were in English. Yet the back was filled up with English words! I wonder what the bit on the front says? Anyway, Jayid had a few things to say through his child development worker. He sent more thanks for the gifts my mother in law was able to mail for me when she visited India back in November. I'm so glad he liked everything! He also said that he is participating in VBS and his Bible verse is Philippians 4: 4-7. The letter said that he has learned many new songs, including "Jesus Power Super Power!" He is also doing arts and crafts. Jayid asked that we pray for his brother "who is suffering from fever and good health." A fever doesn't sound like good health to me! Jayid's mom was sick with a fever a few months ago- I'm starting to wonder if his area (or maybe just his family) is having a health crisis. "Fever" could mean malaria or typhoid. I will probably be asking about an inquiry this week.

The second letter was from my Tasya, in Indonesia!

I am always excited to receive letters from my kids, but Tasya's letters have the added excitement of being from our first sponsor child, the child we have known the longest, and the child who calls us "Mama Jessi" and "Father Brandon." : )

Tasya's letter took a loooooong time to get over here- it was written in February! She wrote that in February, she was able to take part in a parade featuring sponsored children! It was exciting for her because many of her friends were there. She also said that school is going well and she would have exams in two months (late April to early May) and she hoped that we were praying they would go well. She also said " I also will continue to pray for dear mom's work to run well every day. May dear mom and family are all blessed by God." I'm glad that she's praying for my work! Tasya has mentioned my work at the library several times- in fact, she is the only one of our kids that has mentioned it beyond an introductory sort of thing! 

I'm so thankful that I got some letters this week- and getting one today was definitely a nice surprise! 

Saturday, June 28, 2014

The sixth seven days.

I'm still challenging myself to find happy moments and things each day for 100 days! Here are this week's.

June 22: I'm thankful that I had a lot of time to rest today. I feel like I'm reaching some kind of boiling point with my stress levels, and I was able to have some downtime today. After church, we came home and ate lunch and watched a movie. Later in the day I got to go through some cookbooks looking for new recipes and spend some quiet time by myself!

June 23: I had to go to work early today because we had a staff meeting with my boss's boss. It wasn't fun limb to work early, but the good thing is that the rest of my work days this week are a little shorter to make up for the time. And since I had a longer shift, I had to take a lunch break. I'm thankful I got to eat dinner with my best friend (and she brought me a big Mountsin Dew fromTaco Bell!)

June 24: I am very proud of myself. I had my last dentist appointment today (for a while) and I got through the whole thing without freaking out. No nitrous, no digging my nails into my arm. Nothing. I did come home and nap because of the adrenaline crash, but still. Like I said. I'm very proud of myself. And after I woke up. We had a great night at Bible study, and my mom and I had a yummy dinner from Mellow Mushroom!

June 25: I had a very short night at work tonight. That in itself is a blessing. And that's all I have to say for today.

June 26: I don't feel like I have a lot to be happy about today. Our air conditioning is out, I got some very bad news today, and there is just a bunch of dumb stuff going on (related: I would really appreciate prayers for the management of my stress.) But I got a letter from one of my kids, so that was nice. That is my happy thing for today.

June 27: Today was HOT. Argh! And it was my coworker's retirement reception at work (there are very few reasons I will go to work on my day off- honoring my friend Laura is one of them.) So those two things made me sad. But a few happy things happened today. I found a lace dress on clearance at Target for $8. We had green punch at the retirement party- normally we just get that punch at the art show we host every spring. It's like a special treat that my friend and I enjoy very much. And our air conditioning got fixed late tonight, so it is starting to cool down in my house. The best part is that the fix was cheap, and that Brandon has a family member who works for an HVAC company so he was able to come out and take care of it! He will come back this weekend to make sure everything's going ok. But it has been about half an hour since the fix and we've already dropped two degrees. Woohoo!

June 28: I found something really cool online today- a website that sells cookie cutters in the shape of different countries! They don't have every country, but they do have several interesting ones, including several where Compassion works, and many where my friends and acquaintances have gone to adopt children. I've been working on some crafts to sell recently, and those include some clay ornaments in the shape of Africa. I'm hoping over the next few months I can afford to order some of these neat cookie cutters for more crafting! I'm excited about it!

Monday, June 23, 2014

Sweet Greetings from Uganda and Tanzania

It's time once again for Mail Call Monday!

I was very happy to receive two letters this week. Hopefully this week will bring many more!

The first letter we received was from Caleb in Uganda!

Caleb's letter was written on April 20, and his letter arrived exactly 2 months later! Caleb shared that it is the rainy season on Uganda, and his parents have been "busy in the garden of maize and beans." Many people were planting their crops, but his family was already finished! Caleb also said that he loved his teacher at school, whose name is John, and his memory verse at the center was Genesis 1:1. Caleb also shared the name of the church where his center is located, and his primary school, but I had trouble reading that. Then he drew some simple drawings of a house, a goat, and a person!

This morning I also received a letter from Elisha in Tanzania! 


Elisha's letter was a form letter about school. Elisha is now in the third grade, and his school is only a kilometer from his house. He is able to walk there each day with no problems. He says his uniform is blue and white, and his teacher's name is Mariam. His favorite thing about school is playing games (I don't doubt it) and his favorite subject is counting numbers!" And he likes to play more games after school! Elisha also said thank you for the letters I have been sending, and he drew some plants and a lady wearing a dress! 

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Like I really know what I'm talking about.

I've been thinking about Tanzania a lot lately. And it's not just Tanzania, but travel in general. I miss Tanzania desperately, but I have a really strong desire to just go anywhere Compassion is working, visit the centers, and see my kids. It feels a little overwhelming at times. I'm trying to get back to work on my crafts and things so I can get the money for my next trip, but things have been a little slow over the past week or so. I do a lot of thinking and daydreaming these days, and part of that includes imagining what another trip with Compassion would be like- where I would go, how it would be different from Tanzania, things like that.

I am by no means an experienced traveler. I have been on exactly three trips in the past five years: a honeymoon to Disney World, a weekend in Pennsylvania, and then Tanzania. So I don't think I'm any sort of expert when it comes to globe trotting and all that. I do think I have some advice to offer, though. And thinking and writing about it helps me process my TZ trip (which I am still doing three months after returning home) and for me, it's fun!

Packing can be stressful. Particularly if you're getting ready to go out of the country, you've never traveled further than three or four states away from your own, and you consider yourself "high maintenance." My suitcases were absolutely, positively as full as they could possibly be, and so was my purse (it was ridiculous, I wish I had taken a picture. It looked like an overly full shopping bag.) Part of what I've been thinking about lately includes how I would do things differently, and what I think I did right. So here are my thoughts:

What I wouldn't change: 

  • Febreeze. This was a lifesaver. I took a travel-sized bottle of the extra strength stuff and was even able to share some with my fellow travelers. Washing clothes in a tiny sink is very difficult, particularly in a humid climate. Between the amount of clothing I had packed and the Febreeze, I was able to go almost the whole trip without washing clothes. It sounds gross at first, doesn't it? Well, it really wasn't, because I tried to pack smart with my clothing. 
  • Clothes. I do not have many clothes. This is a statement I could say at any point in my life, and it would be true. I have one pair of pants for work and one pair of jeans. This is what happens when you don't have much money. I knew I didn't want to wear jeans while trekking around Africa (especially the same pair every day, gross) so I started looking early for deals on clothes. In the end, I purchased four maxi skirts on eBay and on a clothing website (using coupon codes.) I matched these up with multiple inexpensive t-shirts from Walmart- about $4 each. Six or seven shirts plus four skirts ended up making 11 or 12 days of outfits. I basically purchased an entire new wardrobe for around $70. Then I took two pairs of socks, just in case floors were gross (I wore the same sandals every day while out and about) and "unmentionables" for every day, because they just don't feel right after they've been washed in the sink (once again, cheap clothes from Walmart came in handy!) My shoes were my only real investment as I needed something sturdy and good for walking. At $70, my sandals were the most expensive article of clothing I have purchased in my life, beyond my wedding dress and prom dress. But they were worth it- my feet never hurt during the entire trip! And I still wear them now that I'm back home. Lastly, I took a few pairs of work-out style shorts. Since I went to a private school, I have developed a habit of wearing shorts under my skirts- I still do today (I wore basketball shorts under my wedding dress. Not kidding.) They made good sleep clothes (paired with one of two tank tops) and were rotated out with the ones I wore during the day. Anyway, to make  a long story short, bargain shopping and strategy made my clothes-packing pretty successful. Everything I took for myself fit into my carry-on. 
  • Snacks. These came in handy. I took one or two sleeves of Saltine crackers with me in case I had tummy issues. And a little baggie of ginger snaps. These are part of my go-to bag when I'm having tummy problems or anxiety issues. Those mornings when I felt really gross mid-way through the trip, I could snack on a couple of crackers and sip my water or ginger ale, and feel a bit better. I also took two boxes of fruit leather (which is flat and easily transported) and was able to share that with some of my new friends as well. 
  • Medicine. I do not regret for one second the sheer volume of medication I took with me. On my next trip, I will probably take some of it out of its packaging, but I had this weird feeling of paranoia that we would get pulled over somewhere and police would go through our bags and find my medicine, and I wanted proof that it all was what I said it was. Which might be insane, but whatever. I was prepared! I took basically everything the CDC recommended, plus whatever I wanted for my own peace of mind. Here's a list of what you could call my traveling medicine cabinet: allergy medicine; sinus medicine (super weak stuff that did NOT help on the plane ride home); many, many rolls of both Tums and Rolaids; Immodium and its prescription-strength counterpart Lamotil; my anxiety meds; my two prescription nausea meds (fast and slower-acting); Tylenol; store-brand Pepto Bismol. Plus a mini first-aid kid that had alcohol wipes and bandages. And one stick-on heating pad, and roll-on Icy Hot. Being fully prepared helped me feel at ease, and meant that I was able to help some of my fellow travelers when they weren't feeling well later in the trip. 
  • Wipes. Shout wipes, baby wipes, Clorox wipes. All the wipes. I didn't end up needing the "moist wipes" or whatever they call glorified adult baby wipes, because I knew that they would probably mess up the plumbing of the actual toilets we visited, and the rest of the time I tried to avoid using the facilities. The Shout wipes came in handy when I dropped a piece of fruit on my shirt the morning I was meeting my boys. The baby wipes were very handy for cooling down in the hot sun (if you're feeling overheated, you can run a baby wipe over your arms, face, and neck- and then "towel off" with a handkerchief if you have one. Which I did.) And they were great for cleaning up sticky hands of the little ones who don't eat with a fork on a regular basis. And the Clorox wipes? My shoes got a wipe down once or twice when I did dare visit the outdoor toilets at the centers. I was hoping and praying that the moisture on the floor was just rainwater that had washed under the door, but honestly, you never know. 
  • A notebook. Boy am I glad I took that notebook. It was great for a few reasons. I was able to journal each day (I needed more room than they gave us in our info book) and write down everything that happened that I remembered- which meant that I was able to provide YOU with detailed blog posts when I got home. : ) I also used the notebook for communication with the kids. Emily, a girl on the trip, had the smart idea to get the kids to write down their names when we asked. That way we'd know for sure what they were (between soft voices and accents, it could be hard to tell at times) and we'd be better at remembering them. I wouldn't know Dori's name if I hadn't had my notebook for her to write in. Plus I used it for my picture dictionary that I made with Faustina and Witness! We filled a dozen pages with pictures and descriptions in Swahili and English. This impressed my boys and their translators later in the trip! 
  • Gifts. I am perfectly happy with the fact that I was able to take an entire backpack of gifts for all THREE of my boys, plus gifts for several sponsors. 
  • Pashmina. I am not a scarf person, but I own a few pashminas. I like looking at them and feeling them. I took the pink and blue pashmina my mother in law got me in India on the trip- I read somewhere that it's a good idea to take a scarf on a trip because it has many uses. My scarf helped keep me warm in the chilly plane (airplane blankets are a joke.) I wore it one or two days on the trip when it was chilly in the mornings, because of the rain- and it became my "raincoat" on my way to and from dinner in Singida on most nights. Then on the way back, I used it to cover my face when I had to blow my nose, which was a lot, so I would seem less disgusting to the other passengers who were very close by. Many uses indeed. 
What I would do differently
  • Pay the baggage fee. On my domestic flights, I had to pay $90 for overweight bags. The cost was similar for the international flights. My bag was only 3 lbs overweight, but that's the business. It would have cost $35 to check another bag, though. In the future, I will take another bag, weigh everything before I go, and save money. Plus I will have more room (read: 45 more pounds, if I can carry it) more space to take stuff to the centers, and carry gifts for other sponsors. 
  • Take a different purse. And put less in it. I over thought my purse. I was really worried about the international flights- that I would have a panic attack and feel really trapped and helpless while flying for 8 hours. So I wanted to have lots of stuff within reach. Therefore my purse had my Bible, a few books (in case I couldn't get into one and it wasn't a good enough distraction), my medicines, some crackers, my chargers, my iPad, phone, and iPod shuffle, and random things like a sleep mask (which I never used) and other weird stuff. In Amsterdam, I ended up buying a new purse that had a zip closure and a long strap, which was more comfortable. I took out the stuff that I didn't need during the first leg of the trip and counted my old purse as my carry-on luggage, since it was already marked as such. Anyway, I ended up having to check my carry-on in New York because KLM counted my purse as carry-on and weighed it- and the combined weight was too much. 
  • Lighten the load. In the end, I didn't read any of the three books I took, and much to my dismay, one or two of them got kind of smushed during the journey. I like my books pristine and wrinkle free. Now I kind of don't even want to finish the ones I took because they look messed up. I'm weird about books that way. I would also leave behind at least one bag of hard candy (I took three- hard candy is very soothing for me when I'm having a panic attack) and a few random other things. 
  • Take a jacket. I'll repeat my line about not having many clothes. I bought a $9 simple black hoodie for this trip. And it got gross. It just smelled weird after running around JFK and the long flight and then landing in hot and humid Tanzania after two days without a shower. So I didn't want to wear it the rest of the trip (understandably.) Even if it had been clean, it wouldn't have helped much during those times I actually could have used a jacket- when it was raining! It was never cold- there was one morning when it was a little chilly- but wearing a jacket made out of sweatshirt material is not ideal in the rain. It will just absorb the water. Next time I plan on taking a jacket that does better in the rain. 
  • Take stuff to help the food. I didn't mind drinking so much bottled water (many people brought instant drink mix, as it was recommended in our info packet) but after a while, the food was hard to eat. It was starch-heavy without things like sauces and salt, which we take for granted back home. Next time I will take salt, pepper, and sugar packets, and hopefully some ketchup packets, too. Not a bunch, but some. It would definitely help with the cooked potatoes and other super starchy things we had to eat. I would only use those at the hotels, though, and not at the centers, because that would look weird. 
  • Take more stickers. I'd also take more gifts for the kids at the centers. One lady in our group brought candy like pixie sticks. She'd wait until we were playing a group game away from the entire herd of children, and pass them out as a part of the game. It was really fun for the kids. And you can never have enough stickers when visiting a child development center. Seriously. If you brought a garbage bag full, you'd still run out. 
  • Bring pictures of my family. I took them for my boys, but didn't think about taking them to the centers. So many of the kids asked to see pictures. I had a few on my phone, but not many. They all laughed when they saw my photo of my brother's dog, though. They didn't believe he was a dog! Pugs aren't very popular in East Africa. : )
  • Bring cards for the kids. At the end of the trip, I found some "pass it on" scripture cards my mom had sent in a card (did I tell you that my mom wrote me cards to read on the trip for when I was feeling homesick or anxious? My friends Jess and Mary Jane did too, and my friend Pat made me a card with a prayer for each day!) I gave those to some of the girls I made a connection with, and wrote a note on the back telling them that I would be praying for them and that I'd never forget them. Even index cards would have been good to take- I could leave more notes with more kids. 
I'm sure there are a ton of other tidbits of advice I could give, particularly if you're planning on traveling with Compassion. But these are just some random thoughts I had. Thank you for indulging me once again and reading my ramblings!  : )

Saturday, June 21, 2014

The fifth seven days.

Continuing on with the #100daysofhappy theme, here are this week's thankful moments/gifts/happy things.

June 15: Lots of things made me happy today! I got some gifts in the form of food and nice-smelling things: my mom brought Brandon and I lunch because we were at church when the rest of the family went out for Father's Day. And she delivered some yummy smelling stuff from the Body Shop that my cousin got for me. I was also really happy that I got to see my friend Denise M. (or "other Denise" as I refer to her) in church this morning! I work in the nursery on the third Sunday of every month, and Denise is usually in there with me. I hadn't seen her since February- in March I was in Tanzania, April was Easter and I worked an earlier service, and she was absent last month! So I finally got to talk to her about my trip and show her a few pictures on my iPad before some more of the babies started crying and we had to get them out of their bouncy seats. Sharing with her made me really happy- I'm glad that I got to see her again after several months!

June 16: One of my pet rats, Glitter, has been really sick for a long time. We don't know if she had a bunch of strokes or what, but we had basically been expecting her to die from last spring until....about a month ago. Seriously. She hasn't eaten her real food in over a year- when she's doing ok she can eat things like bread, when she's not doing ok she eats baby food and baby cereal. Lately it had been a lot of baby cereal. She also had some tooth issues from going so long without grinding her teeth down on the pellets she normally eats. Tonight I am spending some time upstairs working on the computer as I eat my dinner (frozen french fries! I'm an adult, don't judge me.) Glitter was super excited to see me (the rat cage is right next to the computer desk) and just to see what she'd do with it, I gave her a little french fry. She's been able to eat almost all of it! Even with messed up balance and wonky teeth and all the other problems she has. I'm so happy she has been able to act more like her old self this past week or so. I'm really impressed with how well she is doing! Healthy pets not on the verge of death makes me very happy. : )

June 17: I got to have dinner with my moms tonight! My mother in law Denise has been sitting out of our Bible study group this year because she was involved in a discipleship training course at our church. She is ready to come back and join our group again- but tonight we didn't have Bible study! So my mom and I met her for dinner instead. We had a nice time catching up and eating some yummy food (I am generally happy whenever I can get my hands on a Shirley Temple) and afterwards, my mom and I made a run to nearby Walmart and bought some things for the baggies we are going to be sending to some of our kids later this year! They didn't have much in the way of school supplies yet, but I found some colorful ink pens, soccer pencils for Victor and rainbow pencils for Mary! And we got ice cream, too. It was a very nice evening! : )

June 18: Today was a mess. Work was especially messy! It was hot and gross because the air conditioner isn't working right, and we were super busy. I got worn out pretty quickly, and I wasn't the only one! Our Friends of the Library group is really awesome- several months ago they bought us a fancy pants coffee machine (one of those Keurig thingies.) I have some ethical issues with those machines because the individual coffee cups are extremely expensive when compared to just buying a bag of coffee (which I don't do anyway) and none of the little individual cups are recyclable. However, this evening I desperately needed some energy, and I was so thankful for that machine and the "cafe mocha" coffee cups that someone brought in to share!

June 19: Brandon was off work today, and I got off pretty early, so we had time to watch a few movies together this afternoon. It was nice to take a break and just sit down for a while after standing all day at work! And it's always a plus when the movie we watch is actually enjoyable- tonight we watched "Spirited Away", which is a really nice animated feature from Studio Ghibli (I really like Hayao Miyazaki's movies!) This was a vast improvement over some of the stuff we've watched lately, like "Conan the Barbarian!"

June 20: I'm happy that I get to work with friends. I don't think there was very  much that I would call "enjoyable" about today- I had to get up early again to drive my husband to work, we had a very busy and exhausting day at work (during which I got a very bad stomachache and had to take a nausea pill, which made me very sleepy) and then there was a torrential downpour once I got to my car- I couldn't even see the road sometimes on my short drive home. But the day would have been a lot more difficult if I worked with people I didn't like. I'm thankful for my friends from work, who make difficult days more bearable!

June 21: Today I'm happy that I live so close to my parents. When money is really tight and we are running low on things like, well, food, I can go over to my parents' house and pick up some necessities. That's what I did today. My mom made up a few bags for me, which included Big Red (yay!) and a box of Kleenex (we are out, and we have allergies. And one of us is struggling to cope with stress and might be doing a little more crying than usual.) It was nice to have something for dinner that wasn't sandwiches or hot dogs (we did not eat the Kleenex.) I'm happy that my mom takes care of me, even though I don't live in her house anymore.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Why I do it.

I didn't have any letters from my kiddos this week, so this isn't a mail call post. It is related to letters and Compassion, though!

People frequently ask me how many sponsor kids I have, or "how many I'm up to now." I also get some funny (but not necessarily in a mean way) looks when I tell them the number- which is now 22. I know that some people think that I'm weird for writing to that many kids, and I know that they are thinking one thing: why? Even if they don't really care about the answer, or if you weren't really wondering, here are a few of my reasons why.

  • Because there is a need. Compassion is a well-known and popular charity (or ministry, as I prefer to call it) that is active in over 20 countries and has sponsors all over the world, from the USA to Canada to Britain, Australia, and even Korea! That's a whoooooooole lot of kids in the program. Not all of them have sponsors that write. Sometimes there are groups or corporations that do large group sponsorships- a company might ask Compassion to just pick 100 kids of a certain age group or in a certain country,which is awesome. Or maybe it's just a family that wants to help out by sponsoring, but they've found that they don't have the time to write as much as they'd like to. Either way, there are always kids who need someone to write to them. Sometimes there is a little bit of a wait, but that's fine. I'm willing to be one of the people that says "hey, if there is a kid who needs a correspondent, I'm happy to take on another!"
  • Because I have a gift. At least that's what I'm told. I like sending mail. I'm the weird person among my peers that remembers birthdays and sends things like birthday cards, sympathy cards, get well cards, etc. Sometimes I feel  like I am at least partially responsible for keeping the greeting card and postal industries alive in the age of emails, skype and text. I have some friends who have said that this is kind of like a spiritual gift for me- the gift of sending cards to cheer people up or make them feel loved. Over the past year, my circle of friends has changed (one might say "shrunk") kind of dramatically. There used to be a pretty big group of people that I sent mail to regularly. I don't really talk to a bunch of those people anymore. I'm definitely not saying that those people didn't deserve or appreciate to get mail from me (because that would be really stupid) but maybe this is what I'm supposed to be doing with my "gift" instead? Even if those people were still my friends, I don't think their feelings would be hurt if I used my energy and money to send cards and letters to kids instead. After all, I can always say hey to them on facebook- I can't do that with my sponsor kids!
  • Because God told me to. I have always enjoyed writing to my sponsor kids- even when I just had one, or enough that I could count on one hand. I have this love to share with them, and I don't think I'm going to run out any time soon. It's kind of like when people have kids of their own, and they wonder if they're going to be able to love them all equally. I've heard them say that their heard expands with each new addition to their family- no love is being taken away from the children they already have, their heart just makes room for more. When I was in Tanzania, each time I met and connected with kids at the centers, I found myself wondering if they had a sponsor who wrote to them. I would love to take all of those kids on as correspondents if they needed one. I knew that when I got home, I would be adding my name to the list for more kids- as many as I would be allowed to have. And since I got home, I have been blessed to have several kids added to our far away family! And I would be thrilled to have even more. I think I'm going to wait a little bit before I send my email saying I'd be happy to be put on the waiting list- I have several kids that should have first letters on the way soon. So maybe when I start hearing from some of them, I'll get back on the list. Anyway, I feel confident that loving these kids through my letters is what God wants me to do right now. 
I love being a correspondence sponsor to so many kids. I would sponsor more kids if I had the money, and will sponsor more as we pay off more of our student loan debt and things like that. When we have kids of our own, I plan on getting them set up with "birthday buddies" of their own as well! I am thankful that my family of sponsor kids is so big!

Sunday, June 15, 2014

The fourth seven days.

I'm continuing sharing my posts for the #100happydays thing that's going on, even though hashtags don't really work on blogger. : )

June 7: My aunt's birthday was yesterday, so our family got together for cake and ice cream this evening. I got there a little early, in time to watch the Belmont race (no Triple Crown winner again this year...I think it's cursed, like the Defense Against the Dark Arts position in Harry Potter.) My Mammaw made a homemade chocolate cake and Dia (that's what I call my aunt) brought over homemade vanilla ice cream. It's really amazing with mini chocolate chips! I'm glad I got to see my family and celebrate my aunt's birthday!

June 8: Church this morning was really great. We're in the middle of a series about "dirty religion", basically how we take the Bible and what God wants us to do and basically mess it up. This week's sermon was about how we don't all worship the same God, even though some people may believe that we do. Toward the end of the message, our associate pastor made a really good point. He mentioned the verse where Paul says it doesn't really matter if you eat meat that was originally intended as a sacrifice for another god, because there is only one God. And how God doesn't need us to fight his battles for him- the strategy for "winning people for Jesus" shouldn't be to wipe out non-believers with weapons, or to knock them down with sarcasm and insults, but to love them and share Jesus with them without being a jerk. I love that. I love messages like that. I wish that I had a better way of conveying that to some people I know, because I think I don't do a good enough job of it sometimes. Anyway. The sermon made me happy. The message of love made me happy. The fact that I know that my pastor thinks it's wrong to be a jerk to people makes me happy. It may seem like a small thing, but really, that's kind of the opposite of what some churches teach!

June 9: Today has been a bad day. I had to go to the dentist this morning (I'm having issues and will continue to go there pretty frequently over the next month or so) and I couldn't get an appointment until later in the morning- I usually try to go first thing, so I can just roll out of bed, brush my teeth, and go. Going later gives me more time to stress. When I got home, I was feeling really sick and shaky, and my mouth hurt so bad. I grabbed the mail on the way inside, and I had three pieces of mail from Compassion- two amazing letters from Mary and Victor, and Reine's info packet! These things made me feel so much better after my dumb morning! God gave me a gift via the mailman today.

June 10: I took some of my books over to Half Price Books to sell today, and was able to get a pretty decent amount for them- that always makes me happy! Pretty much everything extra I make these days goes toward repaying my Tanzania trip so I can go on my next trip, but money was really, really tight this week, and doing well at the used book store definitely helped us make it to the end of the week!

June 11: I had another dentist trip on this day. And it was not happy. It was panicky and stressful and I didn't do as well as I have been. I have the nail marks on my arm to prove it. And I was really worried about going to work tonight, because I have been hearing horror stories all week, from my own coworkers and people at other branches, about how busy and stressful things have been. Tonight was busy, and stressful at times, but there were a few moments throughout the evening where I was able to catch my breath, have a cup of coffee (and a donut from the surprise box on the kitchen table- the same bakery that did my wedding cake!) and I was so, so thankful. The five minutes here and there of peace was just so unlike what the rest of the week had been for everyone else- and looking back on that, I'm thankful for the interruptions in the chaos!

June 12: This may sound kind of dumb, but today, price-matching made me happy. I never know what to get my dad or my husband's dad for their birthdays or Christmas- well, I don't know what to get them that would fit in my budget. But thanks to a certain big box chain, I was able to find a really great price on something for my dad, show it to them on my phone, and actually get him something that I feel pretty good about. That doesn't happen very often! I came pretty close to high-fiving the check out lady when she took off the discount.

June 13: We went to see a movie today! I think I've written about my love for superhero movies on here before- today, I was very happy that we finally got to go see X-Men: Days of Future Past. I think that the X-Men are my favorite superhero collective. I absolutely loved seeing the first three films (fun fact: Brandon and I saw X-Men: The Last Stand on our first "group" date) and enjoyed the first episode of the reboot, but it just wasn't the same without Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellan, and more Hugh Jackman! It was so nice to see them all back on the big screen. We had a good time- we even got free popcorn, which was a little burnt, but what we did eat was still a nice treat!

June 14: I kind of forgot that two days ago, we took Brandon's car to the mechanic's and left it. I remembered late last night. I had to wake up soooooo early and drive him over to get his car so he could go to work. I came back home and slept for a few hours before I had to go to work. I'm happy that I got the chance to do that- I actually woke up a little easier than I usually do (the second time, I mean.) Maybe the key to feeling rested in the morning is getting up early and driving around for a bit before going back to bed?

Monday, June 9, 2014

Outgoing Mail

I'm getting together a box of letters and gifts to send out  next week. I thought I'd take a break from actually writing the letters to share a bit about what I'm sending!

The other day, I was thinking about the fact that I am not too much older than some of my sponsor kids- I think this train of thought started when I was making several library cards for children this weekend, and kept thinking "This kid was born a few months after I graduated high school and he is like, old." I thought about telling some of my kids what I was doing the year they were born, ,but then it made a little more sense to change that to "this is what I was like when I was your age." Maybe I'll hear back from some of my kids and find out the things we have in common! I think that this is a pretty fun letter writing idea that can easily be adapted by just about anybody- if you can't remember what you were doing at a certain age, then perhaps you could go with the original idea, and tell your child what you were doing around the time they were born.

I started my letter with greetings to my kids and their families, and asked how everyone's doing. I shared that right now, where I live it feels pretty hot- though it's probably not as hot as where they live! I also said that we have not experienced much rain recently, but we are praying for more- the clouds are there, but nothing is falling from them! Writing about the weather may seem boring to some, but our kids love learning about what's going on where we live- including whether it's hot or cold, sunny or rainy.

I then moved onto the primary topic of the letter. I framed this a little differently for each child. For example, Caleb has a birthday coming up in August- I will be sending his birthday gift with this package. So I started a new paragraph by saying "Caleb, I was thinking about your upcoming birthday. It is going to be fun turning 13- you will be a teenager! I thought it would be interesting to tell you about what I was like when I was your age." Sometimes I introduce the topic by talking about a recent birthday a child might have had. With some of the other kids, I said something like "I can't believe that you were just 8 years old when we started writing to you, and this year you turned 12!"

Now onto the most challenging part of the letter- remembering what I was doing at different ages! I just listed some random things from various aspects of my life. If you want to do a letter along this theme, you may have more to talk about in some areas than others- that's ok! The point is to just talk! Here are some ideas to get you started, along with examples:

  • Physical appearance: "When I was 17, I had long hair that I dyed black! I really liked having dark colored hair- it is something that I wanted to do since I was a little girl!" "When I was 10, I had to get glasses so I could see better. I wore them every day for several years." "When I was 7, I was the tallest kid in my class!"
  • Family: "When I was 6, my brother was 2. He was fun to play with!" "My family got a new dog when I was 9. He was very small- not much bigger than my mom's hand!"
  • School: "When I was your age, my favorite subject was English. I loved to read!" "I started a new school when  I was 13. I stayed there until I finished my schooling at the age of 18."
  • Hobbies and Interests: "I liked playing basketball with a church group when I was 7 years old. I had a lot of fun!" "At 16, I wanted to be a detective when I grew up. I was very interested in the science of solving crimes."
Never underestimate the interest your child will have in your life. When Tasya first wrote to me about "hunting the Easter egg", I told her that I used to search for Easter eggs in my grandmother's yard when I was little. Her next two or three letters contained pleas to see a picture of me when I was little, hunting for Easter eggs! Plus, I think it's good to remind my kids that I was a kid once, too- and sometimes I still feel like one! 

I finished up my letters with prayer requests and a reminder that I am praying for my kids every day. I included the standard yet very true lines- either that I'm looking forward to the next letter, or I'm hoping to receive the first letter soon. And voila! Another hand-written letter finished! 

I've also got plenty of fun things to send out with this package. Here are some of the gifts I'll be sending to the kids: 
  • Inspired by Hannah, I am putting together a birthday folder for Caleb. Making a folder for him, full of coloring sheets, pictures, stickers, and a birthday card- is a little more personal than just sending any other gift. It's also a little special- definitely not something I normally send! I think that I will make this a tradition for birthdays. I plan on stocking up when the stores put out the back to school stuff!
  • Some of the girls will be getting cardboard stencils, which I found in the party supply aisle 
  • The little bitties are getting writing tablets- the youngest kiddos speak Spanish, so we use the same alphabet. And there's a good chance that they'll recognize the characters- it's from Sesame Street!
  • I've got a few little journals to send to my oldest girls, and tons of princess stickers to send to some of the other ones
  • Carlos will be getting a World Cup sticker book. Hopefully I can find some of the matching stickers to go with it has a few in there, plus information on each country and a place to record the stats from the matches. I just wish it was in Spanish!
I'm really excited about sending this package out, because I am happy about the theme of the letter, and I'm excited for Caleb's birthday folder! Have you found anything cool to send to your sponsor kids recently? How about letters- if you haven't written in a few weeks, take the time to send an online letter today! It literally just takes a few minutes!

Sweet Greetings from Mexico, Tanzania, Brazil and Kenya

It's time for Mail Call Monday once again!! : )

This week I was very excited to get five letters! I feel like there haven't been as many incoming letters lately, so this was a real treat. We heard from Brenda, Patricia, Said, Mary and Victor!

The first letter was from Brenda in Mexico!

Brenda sent a form letter about what she likes best. She shared that her favorite chore is putting away her shoes! Sounds like an easy chore to me- and that would be my favorite kind! Her favorite game is playing with dolls (of course) and she loves playing with her friends- that's her favorite thing about visiting the project! She says she likes her teacher because she teaches well and she plays with the kids- sounds like fun! Brenda's favorite subject is natural science, her favorite place to visit is the park, and her favorite family activity is watching movies. In my response letter I shared that I also like watching movies with my family, and that some of my favorites are kids movies, like the Little Mermaid! Brenda also thanked me again for the gifts I was able to send to her via my friend Mrs K, who was serving as a missionary in Mexico in the winter. Brenda listed her gifts and said she will take good care of them and she will always think of me when she plays with them! I hope that someday Brenda and I are able to play dolls together in person!

Brenda drew the dolly and coloring book I sent to her! 

Next we heard from Said in Tanzania! 

This letter was actually written almost a month after Said and I met in March- but he didn't mention our meeting! I have been waiting to hear what he thought of our visit. Hopefully it will at least get a mention when he receives the pictures I sent him from our special day! I know he had fun, I just think it would  be neat to hear his thoughts on the day. 

In his letter, Said shared that it was the rainy season when he was writing, and people were wearing jackets and sweaters because it was cold. Ha! Cold in Tanzania is a sunny spring day where I live! : ) Said also wrote about Christmas- he said they learned about the birth of Jesus from the book of Luke at the project, and then when he got home from church, he "found the food his mum had prepared." How exciting! I bet there was lots of rice! Then, Said went to visit his family and friends. Ever the artist, Said drew a race car on this letter. I assume he's the driver since he put his name on it! I can't find a translation for the word he wrote on the page, but the translator decided to write "tornado road" on there, which sounds exciting! 

Next came a short letter from Patricia in Brazil! 

Patricia shared that she's doing well both at home and at school. At the time she wrote the letter, she was getting ready for exams. She says that she has lots of fun things at the project and she enjoys seeing her friends there. She signed her letter "Kisses! Patricia" and drew a couple of tiny pairs of kissy lips on there. She's definitely a girly girl! 

Next, a letter from Mary in Kenya! 

Mary always writes the  most wonderful letters. It feels like we've been friends for a very long time! Mary spoke about faith, and said that "prayers without faith cannot move mountains." She knows that I am praying for her and believes that paired with my faith will bring about great things. And she reminded me that she is praying for me as well! Mary says things are going well with her family and at school. She also wrote about my mother in law. Before Denise had her kidney surgery in the spring, I wrote to my kids asking them to pray for her, that the surgery would go well and the cancer would go away. I also sent them a picture of myself and Denise at church. Mary said that Denise is a part of her family as well, and "my family and I believe in the Lord who lives, protector, provider and a great doctor or healer that she will be more healthier than before." Mary says that the letters she receives from us "motivate her attitude" and she's happy because I appreciate her letters as well, and we "learn new ideas from each other!" Mary also said "thank you for the stickers because they make my faith to be completed." At the end of the letter, she said this: 
"I love you Jessi, and I also pray for you and I know that God showers you with much blessings and that he will expand your boundaries. Remember in every success there must be boundaries, valleys, rejection, wind blocks or breaks and even drought." 

As always, when I received a letter from Mary I knew a letter from Victor wasn't far behind! In this case, they arrived on the same day! 

Victors letters are so much fun! Somehow he manages to make them sound full of love and a bit like a business transaction at the same time! He's so polite and well-spoken- he sounds like a professional, even though he's a teenager! Victor says that he and his family are doing very well, and exams are finished at his school and now they're waiting on the last day of school. He says he thinks he did well on the exams- and I believe him! Victor shared that they are receiving a lot of rain where he lives, which is good because it makes the crops grow. "We are happy that soon we will have plenty of food and there will be no more starvation." Victor also said that he's sorry that Denise was sick but he was praying for peace for our family and healing for Denise. Victor also said that he wanted to "appreciate me" for my letters, and that they are an encouragement to him. He said thank you for "always loving" him and he hopes that someday I can come see him and see the "beautiful sceneries!" I pray that I am able to do that, too! I would love so much to visit with him and Mary at the same time! 

Saturday, June 7, 2014

The third seven days.

Moving on to the new are my next posts for the "100 Days of Happy" challenge!

June 1: This evening, I had dinner with several folks who work with my mom (who are like another family to me since she has worked there since I was a tiny baby.) Our friend Ron is moving on to another job, so we were having dinner as a "see you later" party, not a goodbye party. I'm sad that Ron is leaving the bookstore, but I'm glad that he's staying in town, and hopefully we will still be able to see him sometimes. Plus I got to hang out with Anell, which is just the best. We colored (he colored a LOT, which is awesome for someone who has recently learned how to handle crayons!) and played with my phone and stuff. This kid is adorable and lots of fun. Even though I had a bad day Saturday, it made me feel better knowing I'd get to see my buddy the next day! Dinner with friends = happy me!

June 2: I forgot to write something down for this day- oops! I do remember one thing, though: I was able to make a friend happy. I like making people happy- it makes me happy. I surprised my friend with some candy and a new nail polish, and she seemed quite pleased. And that made me smile. : )

June 3: I had three particularly happy things today: I found Hello Kitty yogurt at the grocery store (I love Hello Kitty!) I also got a letter from Brenda and a new correspondence kid named Reine! I'm very excited to get to know her- she's in Burkina Faso, which is a new country for me!

June 4: I think it's kind of funny that most of my happy things involve Compassion or food. This one was Compassion related-- today I got another new correspondence chid, Erick in Ecuador! Ecuador is another new country for me, so I'm really excited about learning about these kiddos and where they live!

June 5: Summer is a really, really stressful time at the library, particularly when we are short-staffed and are experiencing other personnel issues. It's bad. But on this day, I got to spend some time working on fairly fun things, and I worked with my best friend. Those two things make me happy and keep me going in a season that normally leaves me in tears or a ball of tension at the end of the day.

June 6: After a horrendous day at work- seriously, horrendous- we got to go out to eat for my brother in law's birthday. Spending time with my in-laws made me happy, but I was especially happy when Stephen, my 17 year old BIL, offhandedly repurposed a quote from Jurassic Park to suit the conversation. I caught it immediately, said "WHAT!" and made him give me a high five. I was so proud. Which is silly and dumb, but it was funny and referenced one of my favorite things, and it cheered me up.

Monday, June 2, 2014

High on a hill, it calls to me....

I miss Tanzania. I know that some people in my social circle might be tired of hearing me talk about it- it pops up here and there, when talking about the weather or church or other random things. It might be a tad annoying. But I miss it so much. I miss it hard. Sometimes I miss it so much that it feels like my chest is a little caved in- it's a deep longing and a sincere love in my heart.

I haven't talked about the trip on here in a while, but this post has been coming on for a few days. So many random things have reminded me of my trip recently, I've been considering doing another post, but wasn't sure how to frame it. I got to thinking about my senses, and the things I experienced with them. So I'm just going to ramble a bit. I'm going to list my five senses (even though we have more than that) and tell  you what I miss about Tanzania as they relate to those senses.

Taste. At the end of the trip, I wasn't sure I would miss many tastes of Tanzania, but I do. I don't miss the piles of rice, necessarily, but I miss the fresh fruit. I miss the best watermelon I've ever tasted, and pineapple with every meal. I miss the warm sodas (and the little kids who would finish off whatever we left- silly, wasteful us.) I miss the surprise when chapatis were offered at meals. I miss the excitement and relief of tasting familiar food at our Westerner-friendly hotels at the end of the trip. The excitement of fresh mango and the weird, flaked bacon. I miss the bottled water- Kilimanjaro brand, the only water in Tanzania, it seemed. I can't find the motivation to stay hydrated now that I'm home, but I miss carrying around entire liters of Kilimanjaro water around everywhere we went. I miss Cadbury drinking chocolate, which I can find in the international food aisle in one of my grocery stores, but it's not the same without the little purple plastic spoon and the flaming hot milk and water served everywhere we went. I miss all the weird Fanta flavors, and the very ginger-y ginger ale that I kept in my room in case I felt sick in the middle of the night.

Smell. I miss smelling all the grass and dirt. I didn't smell a lot of pollution in Tanzania. I miss smelling everyone's coffee in the morning. I miss smelling the sunscreen (not so much the bug spray, though.) Some random scent the other day reminded me of my hotel room in Singida- the place we all kind of hated. And I missed it. I miss the way my bed there smelled. I spent almost a week there. I miss the way everything smelled after one of the sudden downpours of rain.

Sound. I miss the accents so much. I miss Swahili. I miss hearing happiness in just about everyone's voice. I miss hearing smiles when people talk- you know how you talk differently when you're smiling? That inflection is in so many Tanzanian voices. I miss hearing the rustle of my mosquito net, and the constant hum of the electric fans in all the hotel rooms. I miss hearing the Muslim call to prayer on the way to breakfast, even though we don't share the same beliefs. I miss hearing Pando's random questions about America on the bus, and Philbert and Raphael joking with each other. I miss the roar of the sudden rain on the metal church roofs, even though it meant I couldn't hear what the pastors were saying. I miss hearing the bugs and the wildlife outside my window. I miss the joyful worship, and the sounds of excitement and delight of the listeners- sounds that couldn't be contained because their joy was so great. I miss the prayers- the most moving and touching, powerful and sincere prayers I have heard in my life. I miss hearing the chatter of a huge group of kids swarming around, asking for stickers. I miss hearing my name pronounced with a Tanzanian accent. I miss being called Sister. I miss hearing Said's low, calm voice, and Elisha's hollering, and Bonifas' constant giggling. I miss the rumble of the buses and the joyful welcome music that greeted us each time we pulled up to the center. I miss hearing happy voices saying "goodbye" and "I love you" as we drove away.

Sight. I miss the sunrises. I miss looking up at the sky and not seeing airplanes and helicopters and tall buildings. I miss seeing butterflies everywhere- bright purple, black with electric green, startling orange. I miss seeing the rolling hills and gorgeous valleys. I miss all the green. Green green green everywhere. I miss the trees- sometimes I'd see a landscape that looked like a less populated area back home, but the trees were swapped. I miss the mountains, even the cloudy ones that all but disappeared (thanks, Kilimanjaro!) I miss the giant rock formations of Singida. I miss purple and orange skies. I miss seeing all the plants that I've only ever seen in pots in my dad's kitchen. I miss seeing shepherds- mostly children- along the sides of the roads, waving as we drove past (even though I really hope that they could go to school.) I miss seeing the occasional group of mud huts. I miss seeing Maasai on bicycles or walking down the road. I miss the giant marabou storks that hung out by the dining hall at the mountain lodge, like giant, terrifying lawn ornaments. I miss the smiles. I miss the beautiful skirts and wraps the women wore. I miss seeing kids, from babies to teenagers, covered with stickers (and sticker scraps.) I miss all the brown earth buildings, and the dirt roads. I miss seeing goats everywhere- followed by cows and donkeys. I miss the amateur portraits of black American stars being sold by the side of the road. I miss seeing babies wrapped up in long sleeves, jackets, fur pants, and blankets, being carried on their mamas' backs. I miss the colors and patterns of the textiles. I miss seeing my boys running around on the playground, being more than a picture I carry in my purse.

Touch. I miss the hugs. I miss holding hands with four or five kids at a time. I miss the special handshakes and the air kisses (left, right, left again.) I miss tiny hands grabbing at stickers, pictures, and coloring pages. I miss the plastic chairs and the wooden benches. I miss playing tic tac toe in the dirt. I even miss having to shake the fine red dirt out of my sandals every few steps. I miss the feeling of having a semi-hot shower after 48 hours of travel, and the feeling of crawling into bed- even one that's not my own- after an amazing day during the most incredible week of my life. I miss the familiar weight of my backpack, and the feeling of putting my trusty sandals on my feet each morning. I wore them almost every day for over a month after I got back- we'd been through a lot together. I miss the first moment I took Bonifas' hand, and grabbed Said and pulled him into a hug. I miss sitting on a broken trampoline with my boys, close enough that all six of our knees touched, dealing with the understanding that they are real and with me and life, at that moment, was perfect. I miss Bonifas' hands on my arm as he prayed for me, which was the gift he presented at the end of our time together. I miss Elisha's tiny hand grabbing mine, dragging me along to climb on this and jump over that and run around something else. I miss sitting on the swings and all of a sudden feeling someone pushing me, and realizing that the hands on my shoulders are Said, whom I have known for three years, whom I love as my own son.

I miss Tanzania so much. If presented with the opportunity, I would move there in a heartbeat. I would pack up my things and go. I would miss a lot of things and people here, but I felt at home there. I felt like I belonged. I know I don't look like it, but that's the way I felt. There is a hole in my heart the size and shape of Tanzania, and there are some moments of some days where it feels overwhelming, and my love for that country and those people, and my sadness at the realization that I will likely never go there again, overflows in my heart and streams down my face as tears. I hope and pray that I can go back. And I really want to go everywhere, and see all my Compassion children. And if I get the chance to go, I'm sure there will be weepy, overly dramatic posts about those countries, too. But for now, this is what I have to work with. If you ever get the chance to go and be with your sponsor child- particularly in Africa, and especially in Tanzania- please go. Don't let fear get in the way. Do whatever you can to make it happen. You'll fall in love. You'll come back changed. And you'll probably wind up writing weepy, overly dramatic blog posts, too.

For your viewing pleasure, Bonifas and Elisha playing the harmonicas I put in their backpacks. It was Elisha's idea. And yes, you can hear him saying "whassup" in there, too.