For the Love of Food

This post goes out to my girlfriend Amybeth, who claims to be my most devoted blog reader and loves hearing about my experiences with food.

Mealtimes in Ethiopia can cause some confusion. Breakfast is prepared for all guests automatically, even though I skipped it most mornings. It is at that time guests are supposed to sign up for meals later in the day. That’s the tricky part. You’ve gotta know by 9 AM whether or not you’ll be dining in or out for lunch and dinner, which for me is determined by what’s on the menu. The cook needs to know how many chickens to buy down the street before she does the day’s meal prep.

The place to sign up for meals is on a white board next to the kitchen in your guest home. (Remember to think “bed and breakfast.”) Since our team was with the owner, we stayed in a home that was unoccupied and unstaffed for the week, except for a guard. With no cook, our options were to go out, not eat (i.e. eat a granola or protein bar), or mooch off another guest house.

I only signed up for a meal 2 times. Mostly I just forgot to sign up, and other times I was too scared to sign up. I didn’t want to sign up for the food, and then have to awkwardly nibble on and push around the items on my plate. If it occurred to me, I’d conveniently run an errand during meal time. But if I didn’t keep an eye on the clock, the cook would come out to set an extra place at the table, taking pity on me as if I were a stray dog. I hadn't signed up for the meal, but there I sat. An extra mouth to feed.

It was a day when I forgot to sign up for a meal that the cook whipped up this fine spread and beckoned me to the table. Now, I approached the table without alarm because the aroma wafting across the room was that of the fried variety. While typically I’ll eat anything battered and deep fried, I am drawing the line here. Take note. I do not eat fried goat, alone or as seen here as the meat in which a hard-boiled egg was first rolled and then fried. It is a lovely display though, isn’t it? Food Network, where were you on this one?

Don’t go thinking I turned my nose up at the kindness of the cook. I tried one of those small pieces of goat’s meat. I think I ended up swallowing it whole because even several minutes of chewing didn’t break down its consistency. After I related this incident to a friend, she used the word chewy to describe its texture.

However, it couldn’t be chewed like food or gum. It was the opposite of chewy. Unchewable. That is a better word for the piece of goat I carefully selected. A cross between a tiny water balloon and a chunk of red rubber that covered the track around my high school’s football field. Yum. The taste? Oh, I couldn’t get past the texture.

I did not, however, try what looked to be a 5th grade science experiment. Seeing the American man next to me eyeball my plate enough, I offered him its contents, which he gladly accepted and polished off. Even that cooked version of the layers of the Earth model.

It was by far the strangest thing I’ve been served at one of the guest homes during any of my 4 week-long stays. The cuisine has always been an Ethiopian take on American food. Some of it even better than the original.

I had some really great food, and not all of it came out of my suitcase. Rice, for instance. Here in the states, I won’t touch it. I serve it to my entire family, but there’s not anything that makes it appetizing enough for me to ingest. But, when your “boxed lunch” is a vat of rice with a cooked julienned veggie assortment, it is delish.

Pasta is another staple I serve my family but generally skip for myself, especially when accompanied by a red tomato-based sauce. Yuck. If I’m going to indulge in a pile of wasted calories like pasta, it needs to be smothered in some creamy cheesy goodness. The Ethiopians win again with their red sauce though. Even without meat, Keith prefers it to anything found stateside. And I am always glad to eat it, especially when topped with parmesan cheese packed conveniently in my purse.

This tortilla stuffed with the week's leftovers was amazing. Really. I did discard the rice and lettuce, but it was my favorite.

The most surprising meal served to me at the guest home was a platter of chocolate doughnuts, and I am hesitant to use those terms describing this breakfast despite its appearance. While here at home the minimum requirement for my doughnut is that it be fresh, hot and pulled straight from the Krispy Kreme icing belt, I lowered the bar on my most recent trip.

They were doughnut-shaped pieces of bread with an under-sweetened chocolaty coating. However, I managed to gobble up every morsel and heard they were even more edible 3 hours earlier at the breakfast I didn’t bother to attend.

Food at the guest home has always been above my expectations. So that my honesty doesn't seem so brutal, let me remind you of a few delectable items they serve on a regular basis: waffles, pancakes, *French toast, scrambled eggs, toast with an assortment of jams and peanut butter, *amazing fruit smoothies, *coffee and tea service every few hours, lasagna, *fried chicken, *spaghetti, *any veggie under the sun, *pizza, *popcorn. (The * denotes my preference for the Ethiopian version over the typical American ones.)


Did you know? A Few Fun and Not So Fun Facts About What Else but Ethiopia

Did you know that toilets in Ethiopia are only for pee and poo? Everything else goes in the trash can. The Kleenex you used to blow your nose? Trash. The wads of toilet paper it took to clean your booty? Trash. Ladies, it gets tricky. That's all I'm allowed to say. Still, everything. In trash not the toilet.

Did you know that Ethiopians are some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet? Their explanation is cultural. Since they have very little of anything material, they value people and relationships more than time and things. For the most part. This, I’m sure, will prove to be a difficult adjustment for us typical Americans. My day begins and ends with a To Do list. Time equals money, right? Even my children have the audacity to tell ME when I’m wasting their time. How dare they! That first trip to Ethiopia is making more sense to me now. I had said that time was a futile thing to them. A better word may be unimportant. Our family has much to learn.

Did you know that it’s only the year 2005 in Ethiopia right now? That’s right. And, until September 11, New Year’s Day except in Leap Years, it was just ‘04. It goes back to a discrepancy regarding the exact year of the birth of Jesus, which is the basis of both the Ethiopian and Gregorian (our) calendars. Lucky for us we’ll get to turn back the clock a few years when we make the move. Something to look forward to!

Did you know that English is taught in every school in Ethiopia at every level of education? I'm feeling dumb already. Although Amharic is the country’s official language and each region has its own dialect, basically if you want to be employable you learn English. However, we will be spending the first few months in language school because the masses of people with whom we’ll be interacting do not speak English.

Did you know that there is a city fabulous enough in Ethiopia for the locals to refer to as “Little Paris”? It’s just outside the capital and just a few miles from where we will be living. Boo. I am secretly hoping the only available house to rent is in Lobola, the official name of Ethiopia’s Little Paris.

Did you know that one can make it through an entire trip from customs upon entrance into Ethiopia to submission of the exit form when leaving Ethiopia with an expired Visa? Okay, it wasn’t truly expired, but someone had written the wrong year on it. It does justify why there was an unexplainable hold up at every stop along the way. Each official seemed confused by my documentation and asked me a handful of arbitrary questions before consulting a nearby colleague, who was obviously just as perplexed…or angry, and then sent me on my way. Oh, I asked after the commotion every time, but they politely waved me through. I guess nobody wanted to resolve the issue of the outdated Visa.

Did you know that I turn into a professional handyman when handed a roll of duct tape in Ethiopia? Big hole in the bathroom door left by the removal of doorknob and lock combo…fixed it. Giant framed wall hangings that seem to be permanently crooked…fixed ‘em. Curtains sliding off the rail…fixed those too.

However, some things should just be put into the trash. This baby doll, found in a basket of toys in the guest house, for instance. I mean, duct tape was not intended to resurrect the dead. What kind of sicko would do this? There are countless children suffering from nightmares because they’ve been exposed to the horror that is this baby. His feet and hands hanging on by a thread of cotton and his head cocked so far to the side it could only indicate its former life as Chucky.

Ah, there are so many more issues I could delve into. There are no physical addresses in Ethiopia. None. Crazy. My brain hurts over the thought of the disorganization. Their days begin at 6 A.M. so what we know as 8:30 is really 2:30. Confusing? Only to us.

Are you eager to know more about Ethiopia? Ask away! Or better: come visit us!


The Lunch Lady

Day 3 here in Ethiopia was really like Day 1 since I slept through the first 48 hours. After organizing our supplies late into the evening, we spent the morning waiting on a vehicle. And, about the time we gave up and decided to tackle a task within walking distance, the van showed up, only to leave while I was in the bathroom.

Yes, left in the bathroom. I know what you’re thinking, but I only went number 1 and opted for time-saving hand sanitizer because there was no towel. And, it’s not like I was part of a large group that could easily lose one of its team members. There were just 10 of us! When I emerged from the bathroom, the receptionist screamed out in horror. Terrified, I checked myself for blood and spiders but quickly understood what had happened when she called one of the fortunate staff members on board, and they turned the bus around.

As it turns out, getting left behind has its perks: riding shotgun, which means eating very little dust along the way.

Our goal today was to set up 2 facilities in the Mission Ethiopia site (i.e. place of employment and empowerment for at risk individuals) at Korah, the literal trash dump where 130,000 people live.

One room was being turned into a store to display and sell items made by the women (and one man) at the site. We wanted to make it beautiful…something for them to be proud of. Why is there a jewelry store in the trash community? I mean, people who live and forage for food amongst the garbage probably find their accessories there too, right? Not in a make-shift store. Well, mission teams and individuals are coming in weekly to visit with the ladies, serve them, worship with them, learn about them, etc. The last stop on their little tour of sorts will be this store where they can purchase items to support the ministry.

The plan for the other room, which is currently being used as a soup-kitchen-like cafeteria that serves two items to children who sit on benches and eat from their laps, was to turn it into a childcare center for the younger kids of the women at the site.



These rooms were pretty much plywood with a small low-quality chalkboard on one end. Look at 'em now!

Mission accomplished. In less than 6 hours. Thanks to a slew of Americans and Ethiopians working with us.

This is a picture of the lunch ladies and one of the gals who helped me serve lunch to the kiddos. We told the ladies to sit back and relax while we handled the food line. During lulls in ladling out that sauce, the women were schooling me in Amharic, teaching me words and meticulously correcting my pronunciation. Sheesh! However, I had a blast.

The lunch room in use.

Ooh, I did peeve off a few kids with the amount of food I poured for them. One girl shot me the stink eye right there in line because I gave her too much food and didn’t avert her eyes until she reached her seat where she could tell her friends about the new gal who wasn’t doing it right.

Got my first shower tonight, even though my odor was barely noticeable.


Sleeping Beauty

Although I arrived early Saturday morning, I did nothing but sleep until dinner time. Even then getting up was heavily debated. My dinner companions, who are also my housemates, included the owner Dave, an elderly volunteer Debbie, who is also my bunkmate and an extremely heavy sleeper, Dave’s parents, a married couple who are best friends with the parents, the top 3 of the Ethiopian staff within the organization, and another friend of Dave’s.

I arrived for the tail end of the celebratory events being held for the beloved employees. Had I flown in just 2 days earlier, I would have made it to the goat-slaughtering party. Yes. They paraded in a goat. Let him put on a smile and show for guests then callously cut him and cooked him up. And people were bragging about this party. Poor little goat. I think that’s what I’ve chosen for a pet. Not too loud. Bearable size and quantity of poo. Bonus lawn maintenance. Last but not least, I think my family could get accustomed to goat’s milk. I just won’t be telling the kids that the milk in their cereal was just squeezed out of fluffy’s ta tas. No. I’ll keep that to myself.

We were 8 minutes late for our dinner reservations, which is early for Ethiopia, but they’d impatiently given our tables away. So, it was on to the back-up restaurant. I knew what I was ordering before we even sat down. Believe it. Turns out the delicious-smelling yumminess being cooked on an open flame outside was a meat kabob, which was labeled BBQ on the menu. Although I ordered chicken and fish, I’m not quite sure what I was served. Still. Yum. E.

I stayed up late for a quick check in and skype call with Keith, whom I knew was having a hissy over not receiving confirmation on whether I was alive or dead. I slept till noon the next day, which meant I missed shopping, lunch, a visit to an orphanage, and church. Sinner. Ordinarily, I might be miffed that no one woke me for church, or for goodness sake shopping! However, apparently everyone known to the guest home tried unsuccessfully to wake me. Even the translator one evening after learning my name admitted being sent in from my group for one last attempt before heading out. I can’t blame them though. It takes more than a gentle whisper or flicker of the light to bring me out of the trance induced by my padded eye mask paired with the blaring white noise of an upright oscillating fan from my ipod ear buds.

The gang returned to pick me up for a “quick bite to eat” before working the rest of the evening. A lofty plan. Over 4 hours later we fought the mass chaos, including a group of young men who ran around in the street with a van door in tow, which had ensued over the excitement of Liverpool’s winning the African Cup…soccer. I tried to get outside at the restaurant to get a picture of the riotous mass running through the streets, but the owner protectively blocked the doorway and told me it was just too dangerous for me.

We did work half the night but only because we didn’t get started till 9 PM. Ugh!

Here’s a snapshot of what’s been happening in my absence:

You have correctly identified my apple slicer being used for a kiwi, the easiest fruit on the planet to cut. Keith’s a first timer though. Bless his heart. He’s new to the world of produce. He told the kids to eat it like an orange, of which the boys typically eat the peel solely to gross out Avery. Nothing was going to stop them from eating the fuzzy brown kiwi skin. Avery’s too. She was so sweet to share after having eaten all the flesh off her pieces.


The Lone Traveler

Why am I in Ethiopia?

Ah, many reasons.

1. We had hoped I could come back during the summer.

2. The stateside founder of the ministry we'll be working with was planning a trip in October along with a stateside volunteer. This should be a totally different experience with the Boss Man here.

3. There are several opportunities for me here this week...new developments within the organization and decisions being made...that will forecast the next 5-10 years. I would love to see those first hand...you know, since we'll be living here in a few months. God willing, of course.

4. I need to get to know the Ethiopian staff and those being served through the ministries here. A large part of what Keith and I will be doing here is relational ministry. That may not even sound like a real kind of ministry to some of you, but it is perhaps the most effective kind.

5. So, if you were moving across the ocean, wouldn't you jump at the chance to figure life out there? Even Ethiopia is getting less scary...I mean more totally awesome...the more I am here.

Are those enough reasons?

Why didn't I tell anyone, not even my BFF or my parents?

1. I did tell 2 friends (who have the luxury of flying for free) in September when Keith and I discussed the trip. Sadly, neither could join me.

2. You are aware of the communication situation between Keith and me. Not another word of making the trip until last week when he asked before purchasing a plane ticket, "So are you really going to Ethiopia?"

3. And the days leading up to my departure were filled with arranging child care and preparing food for 22 out of the 27 meals for which I would be absent. It really just slipped my mind.

So there.

How was my first solo international traveling experience?

First we should address the fact...the miracle...that I was even permitted to do so. I don't have a clue. You and I are seeing a new side of Keith. Perhaps my hauling the kids and Simon to Oklahoma and Texas proved to him that I'm wearing big girl pants and can keep track of my own passport. I will say he sent me off with a verbal list of instructions and walked me to the front of the security line. That sweet man.

One of the things Keith mandated was that I "make friends" with a traveler so that upon arrival amidst the chaos of baggage claim in Ethiopia someone might notice if I need assistance. Or if I happen to go missing. That lucky person was the gal in front of me to check in for my connection in DC. She and her husband were adopting from Ethiopia but were on this trip to go backpacking in Tanzania. For fun. Not my cup of tea, but I'll take what I can get.

I struck gold at the check-in counter with an airline employee who had been disapprovingly weighing everyone's carry-ons, shaking his head at them. Yes, they weigh and measure your carry-on bag! The limit is 17 pounds, and mine was 10.5 over. But, I had greeted him cheerily and pretended to understand his English as he tried to make conversation. He said something to the effect that he could tell my heart was happy for Ethiopia. So, he leaned down and quietly said he was going to just check that bag for free and then kindly waved me away when he saw my other carry-on, which was perhaps heavier than the first. Bless him!

I have no complaints about the flight accept that a flight attendant adamantly woke me from my first and only good nap, despite the pleas of the man and woman next to me to just let me sleep, so that she could force on me a gluten-free meal that I did not order. Peaking out from under my eye mask, I tried to shoo her away but she was relentless. Finally I took out an ear plug with one hand, the other holding the meal she refused to take away, and heard the woman 2 seats down say she did order a gluten-free meal. I handed it to her before Pushy Flight Attendant could even reach for the slip verifying that the meal indeed belonged to the woman in seat J and not to me in seat L.

The best in-flight movie was "Rock of Ages." Although I found it under the category Blockbusters, I felt it fit better in Classics. Stellar cast. Amazing music. You mean you haven't even heard of it? Me either. However, I must have the movie and the soundtrack. Hint, hint to anyone who is looking for a going-away gift idea.

At the horrific baggage claim, my backpacking friends were no where to be found. But the good news is that not a single stranger approached me offering help. I, however, tried to take a luggage cart from one man, whom I had assumed was an airline employee dutifully bringing in carts for arriving passengers. I later realized the guys with that job were wearing earthy-toned scrubs and not a navy Polo wind-breaker that I mistook for part of a Delta uniform. He politely told me he needed both carts. Awkward? Yes. But even more awkward was that he and his brother fell in line directly behind me to wait an eternity at customs. Born and raised in Ethiopia, they had spent the last 8 years in New York and their English was impeccable. The 3 of us traded stories of past, present and future as they walked me through customs and all the way to the man holding this sign:


A Blogger's Hiatus

Nope. This isn’t part 2 of our story. Just an update since my blogger hiatus.

What have we been up to for the last 8-10 weeks?

Avery asked Keith to dance with her stuffed Dumbo, who had dressed up for the occassion. We were all the captive audience. As you can see, Garrison is thoroughly enjoying the show.

At the end of July I loaded up the family, minus Keith, with Simon as my narcoleptic co-pilot and made the 11-hour drive to Oklahoma. After nearly a week with family and friends, I packed everyone back into the van and drove 8 hours to Houston. Lucky for the kids that Keith flew in for the final weekend with his parents so that I didn’t have to make the 12-hour trip home alone.

Saying our goodbyes in Oklahoma.

In Texas, the kids and their cousins made tie dye shirts and onesies for the new baby...with a little help from me.

Although shockingly I have no funny stories to tell about my travels, I could tell you about a mom who prepared for everything but Armageddon. To eliminate stopping for meals, I packed baggies full of nuts, fruit, veggies, chicken, and even more veggies. Plus one package of fruit snacks each. I am not the cool mom. No, sir. Each child had a cup of water, but I forbade them to drink any because of the no-stopping-for-a-potty-break philosophy. The seat pocket in front of each child was stocked with coloring supplies, a lacing toy for idle hands, and a trash/vomit bag with very clear instructions on what to do with it. They were also strongly encouraged to fill their backpacks with a blanket for naps in the van, a change of clothes just in case, plus an electronic game with ear buds so I wouldn’t have to listen. I have zero complaints about the entire experience, except that I missed my husband, and would do it more often if it weren’t for that.

We arrived home in time to unpack and get groceries before our friend Bisrat (visiting from Ethiopia) flew in. The kids and I kept him entertained for the week, and Keith joined us the latter part of his stay for some touristy expeditions in Atlanta.

In addition to poking fun at the volume of pillows with which Americans adorn their beds, especially guest beds, he enlightened us as to the low down, and I mean way low down, on Ethiopia. Although it’s nothing I can post here, it hasn’t dissuaded us from going. And, while it still seems a relatively safe place for foreigners, specifically Americans, we are grateful certain family members are not privy to such information. In fact, were we making this decision 15 or 20 years down the road, we probably wouldn’t be facing it with as much enthusiasm. But, with youth comes naivety, even in the midst of knowledge.

Sadly, we captured the majority of our experiences on Bisrat’s camera, and these 2 blurry shots are the only ones to show you. Ivan, who has been known to be sent to bed after dinner, was rewarded one evening for who knows what by getting to stay up 10 minutes past his siblings and teach Bizzy how to play Xbox.

The zoo was part of his ATL tour, but he escaped all the pics we took.

Here the kids are with one of their BFFs Worth.

Seriously, my kids are so stinkin' cute!

Avery, the ferocious tiger.

Then we had the super fun, never-ending, amazing wedding on Labor Day. Two of our very best friends got hitched in Atlanta over the course of a 4-day celebration. Yes, my dress was fabulous, but did you see the very handsome and sexy Keith in any facebook photos? If his job required him to wear a white button up and suspenders every day, there’s not a whole lot that would get done.

Thankfully, this was one of those kid-free weddings, so I divvied out the kids to the homes of 4 friends and didn’t think twice.

The following weekend our kids experienced all things beachy for the first time when we took our first ever. Yes, ever. Family vacation. Destination: Orange Beach, Alabama. Not the swankiest of retreat areas for adults or kids, but it was free. And, even better is that our getaway was with 2 more of our best friends and their kids.

I need to teach this gal some modesty!

So that Megan and I could have some quality beach time, Keith and Mr. Chris took the kids to some kind of museum. I didn't ask too many questions. I mean, we were getting a few hours without our kids. The guys could have told us they were taking the kids to learn how to throw knives and I wouldn't have batted an eye.

Next on the agenda was the biggest yard sale ever! I mean, EVER. The idea was a smallish fundraiser to get rid of the purged items in Round 1. We were overwhelmed by how much our fellow church members brought in to sell. Overwhelmed in the good sense that, “Gee, this is awesome how much people are supporting us. I feel so loved.” But also overwhelmed as in, “Are you kidding me? We’ve got less than 2 days to sort through the mounds of crap…I mean items to sell…that people have dumped on us…I mean donated. And, there is no end in sight.”

We just weren’t prepared for the department-store level of set up we’d have to do. Although I lost count of how many full trailer loads of donations Keith unloaded, it was such a blessing. We raised enough money for about half the airfare needed for our family to move. And, a sweet friend has already offered to host another one at the end of October to sell some of the leftovers.

A few days later, the paternal grandparents showed up for a 4-day visit. They headed home the same day Keith left for a scheduled “work” trip. Sunday night we returned from Tennessee, the home of some friends who took our newest family pictures. Much more on that weekend later. And, of course I’ll plaster the rest of the pics on here when we get them.


VBS, a Beach and 2 Birds

A week of firsts for this family…and some shocking revelations because of them.

The kids attended their first Vacation Bible School. It was plain ole awesome with songs like “Nothing But the Blood” and a series of skits that presented the Gospel. The week of VBS made me realize a few things. There is no way I am capable of sending the kids to public school right now. Literally, I can’t do it. We were supposed to be in the van ready to leave almost 2 hours from the time I let them out of their rooms. Yes, they are caged animals. However, there was no time for memory work at breakfast or snuggling up to read between lunch and naps. We barely had time for the essentials: eating, getting dressed, brushing teeth, and cleaning up to my specifications, which includes sweeping all non-carpeted areas after breakfast. I have a problem, I know. I would seek help, but this is me with help from more than one professional.

Another thing I didn’t have time for was just seeing the kids. Crazy, I know. But I missed them. Not a lot. Gosh, no! But, yes, missed them. I mean, they spend 98% of their waking time with me. And, somehow being rushed through the morning meant we were rushed through the evening. Instead of having the entire morning to vie for my attention, they were left with those few moments from nap to dinner and dinner to bedtime.

VBS for them was supposed to mean glorious free time for me. Oh, and the learning about Jesus part. Yes, let’s not forget about that. But, I was looking forward to two and a half hours a day of nearly guilt-free freedom for 4 days. Keith called it my half-days off. Someone, slap him. Please. However, real life full of its responsibilities stomped all over my plans, and I spent that coveted free time getting groceries, taking the van to get fixed, and getting a rental.

I want to spend time with my kids, but I desperately need the occasional stretch of time for just me. Free time that does not entail grocery getting, meal planning, cooking, cleaning, laundrying, etc. Is that so selfish? Yes? Well, I still want it.

It comes down to the fact that the stage I’m in is just a season. A very short one. I have to keep telling myself that. I’m going to be dreaming about these days gone for much longer than the actual struggles of them are lasting. I count myself as one of the lucky gals who gets to stay home with her animals…um, I mean children.

Another first for the kids was a boat ride with two of their favorite men: Daddy and Mr. Chris. During this lake trip, two things occurred to me. 1) Our kids are going to miss our friends as much as we are. I’ll say no more on that sadness because I’m sure Megan is crying at the mere mention of it. 2) It doesn’t take anything fancy to entertain kids. A boat with maximum capacity of 2-3 adults on a lake that is technically a pond with a somewhat grassy beach not more than a hundred feet wide. But…it was awesome! And, I finally got some of that free time I’d been longing for.

A first for me, but not something I’m looking forward to making a habit of was deboning 2 whole chickens. Thanks to my farming, homeschooling, amazing friend Keri for that inspiration. Not just removing the meat either. I separated those dead birds into 3 piles: the edible meat (although not all of it looked edible…yuck), the bones, and the rest of the carcass, which included skin, fat, white pieces that were hard enough to be bones but not quite the right bone color plus a disgusting bag of who knows what that basically slid out of each bird’s crotch as I yanked on its flimsy leg. If you are about to vomit over this revolting image, you are not alone.

Who am I kidding? I have to admit that I did it all through thick rubber gloves…my saving grace on most days. Still, what has become of me? I use tongs to transfer the already processed “boneless, skinless chicken breast” from the bag to the pot for crying out loud! Oh, but, I finished the nasty deed by tossing those dry bones back into the pot and cooking them far beyond death to get that yummy, stinky, healthy, greasy, versatile stock. At first I thought it was a flop as it turned out gelatinous instead of liquid, but after using it all week it has been a space saver in the frig and is easy enough to dilute as I use it. And, meals have been easy breezy. Finally, something that’s easy. Totally worth it.

I think I’m ready to take on a chicken in Ethiopia. No? Make that a dead chicken. Okay, not quite yet. But I’m getting there.

Here's a handful of pictures to tide you over since I'm not getting on here too often.

Keith and I went to Hilton Head for a long weekend thanks to some of our best friends who invited us to their house there and other best friends who kept all 3 kids for us.
The kids couldn't understand why I wasn't excited about my birthday. It's just going to get more depressing. But, Keith ordered a cookie cake with what else but an angel.
When Keith gave piggy back rides one evening, they all jumped on at once.
Can you see everyone?
If Daddy can do it, Garrison thinks he can do it. Avery and Ivan slid right off when he stood up. Great effort though. And, very cute.
The boys awkwardly pose with our friend Jane. I missed their horse ride or you'd see those pictures here.
Avery rode the horse last with Mr. Tim, who said "she is a natural on a horse." When I asked her about it later, she wanted to make it very clear that she didn't like horses, just riding them.

The next post is supposed to be Part 2 of "The Story." Do you like how I said "supposed to be"?


The Story, Part 1…the aligning of our hearts despite the lack of relevant conversation

Several years ago (early 2008) Keith said the most frightening words I have ever heard him utter. Out of the blue. “If you ever feel like God is leading you to move to another country or into foreign missions, I need you to tell me.”

I believe my exact words were, (very long pause while I took a few needed deep breaths to settle my racing heart and regain control of my bladder) “O…….K…….”

Before I could get anything intelligible from my lips, and seeing the questions building in my eyes, he cut me off, “That’s it. I just need you tell me. Okay?”

End. Of. Discussion.

Why didn’t we discuss the issue further? I mean, this is a huge topic! It’s on the same level as, “Honey, if you ever want to discuss the logistics of an open marriage, I need you to let me know.”

Shocked to my core. That’s why. I’d be more inclined to discuss the open marriage because it’s something I’m sure I could talk him out of. I know how to negotiate. But moving to and serving in an impoverished country? The battle would be lost before it began. That’s right up Keith’s alley with that enormous soft, squishy heart that first drew me to him.

Of course I didn’t want to discuss that possibility!!!

It was maybe 6 months later we started talking about adoption again and another 6 months before we took those first steps (January 2009). And, you know God eventually led us to Ethiopia, although He revealed it to Keith first. In the end, I was being beaten over the head with Ethiopia. Not by Keith. No, he is the most patient person I’ve ever met.

Skip ahead 2 years to our first trip to Ethiopia. To meet the boys, appear in court and be declared their parents. With the exception of my very serious near death experience and the fact that I felt famished at the end of each day, it was a great week. Really. I’m totally not just saying that because I want you to come visit us.

Maybe we don’t completely skip over the 3 years from the time Keith posed that terrifying idea, circa early 2008, to that first week in the horn of Africa February 2011. Those were crucial years during which God was doing some major work in my heart. Enough that it needed its own construction site. Well, I tried to fight it tooth and nail: picket lines, a strike.

However, it’s difficult to ignore what you read, especially in the Bible, and what God is opening your eyes to all around you. Sometimes I refused to read…or I would read just for the sake of reading but did so with my mind, ears and heart nailed shut preparing for the hurricane that would destroy my very tiny world.

Oh, I didn’t breathe a word of my thoughts and feelings to my beloved. We could have discussed it. But I have a feeling that discussion would have ended in a packing party.

Back to 2011 after that first trip. I couldn’t get Ethiopia out of my mind, even with preparing to go back for the boys. I felt strangely homesick, or like I left a whopping chunk of my heart there.

A few weeks after returning, I couldn’t keep it in any longer. Keith and I were getting into bed later than usual, like after 11. We are NEVER up that late. Typically, a late night for us means 9:01. Keith was too exhausted and nearly asleep the moment he fell into bed (because he insanely gets up at 4:40 on weekdays…by choice), so I knew chances for any conversation were slim. Perfect timing.

That’s when I confessed. “Honey, I have something to tell you,” as if it were my deepest darkest secret. He just groaned, so I continued. “I kind of want to move to Ethiopia.” (long pause while he gathered his thoughts) “I’m not saying I want to move now, or even 6 months or a year from now. I just really think that’s where our family will be living at some point. There. I said it. Good night.”

If you haven’t experienced Keith when he’s sleepy, sick, overwhelmed, or just that “time of the month,” one word describes him: PMS. I do realize that is not one word. However, he could be diagnosed with PMDD, the acute PMS that, if left untreated, causes you to eat your spouse and give your children to strangers.

Pause. Yes, men have cycles too, minus the whole egg production part of it. Keith’s BFF and I have been tracking Keith’s for years without discrepancy.

In his crabby PMS state, he responded, “What am I supposed to do with that information right now?” Followed by silence.

Yep. Then we went to sleep.

I know what you’re thinking. We are excellent communicators. We should be co-teaching a couples’ communication class. Or, writing a book titled Marital Bliss via the Art of Quality Conversations.

What happened over the next few weeks and months? Obviously we didn’t talk about it. Another life-altering discussion that we avoided at all costs. Keith began sending me emails, more than the usual. That’s how information is disseminated between the two of us, although there are times when he forgets to cc me on the Gospel Community (church home group) email because I live in the same house and should receive any vital news through osmosis. The emails I started receiving contained very little of his own thoughts, just oodles and oodles of research apparently trying to prove that living in Ethiopia was impossible. The cost of living is outrageous. Limited rights for non-citizens. American schools more expensive than private schools here. The language too difficult to learn. The government unpredictable. Transportation. Visas. Lack of consistent protein and dairy sources.

The emails stopped when we brought the boys home. Maybe Keith thought a second week in Ethiopia would do the convincing for him.

However, it didn’t take long for Ethiopia to gnaw at him like it had me. Apparently he couldn’t get it out of his mind either. Meanwhile, neither of us was talking about it. Then one evening after the kids had gone to bed, Keith said, referring to Ethiopia while avoiding the taboo word, “Well, before we even consider the idea, we need to make sure it’s legal.” We had signed a jillion plus papers during the adoption process…didn’t matter what it said…we just signed. There could have been giant neon print saying, “I agree never to move with my adopted child back to his/her country of origination.” So, we sat and together composed an email to our main contact at the adoption agency who told us not only is it legal but other families have done it. Proving to ourselves, if no one else, that we are not weirdoes for wanting to move our entire family to the dust bowl that is Ethiopia. So there. We are practically normal.

That brings us up to last summer, June 2011.


Ethiopia...Pictures, Part 2

I know. These are from our February trip...and it is now June. Yes...I said "I know"!

One of the ministry sites we visited works to keep families intact (i.e. keeping children from being orphaned) by empowering women and employing Ethiopians. The women are taught how to make jewelry while the men do the sewing.

This here is a loom, made and assembled by a decrepit old man, who is teaching a younger man how to use it.

Seriously! Look at his tiny frail arm. And, he's awesome.

A young woman walked in with a ball of wool in her hands and placed on a few sticks. Just a ball of wool. In the end...voila...fancy scarves. I was impressed.

And below shows the process of how one type of bead is made. Gives the word "handmade" a new perspective.

I shined this little bead till my fingers were bleeding. Okay, not bleeding. Just cramping. One tiny bead. The women crank out about a hundred per day. Wowsie.

These necklaces are sold at retail value (U.S. dollars), and, in turn, the Ethiopians are paid an above average wage. Cha ching! Again, teaching Ethiopians a sustainable trade gives them the means to keep their children, which even in dire conditions is the best situation for everyone involved.

These ornaments went through a similar daunting process.

This is a vew just outside one of the bead-making sites, all of them being churches which are loaned or rented to Mission Ethiopia.

Many of the women at this particular site walk an hour or more to get to work. Yes, I said walk. I want to take them some umbrellas and comfy walking shoes.

Once again we spent the week with some fabulous gals staying in the same guest home as us. Jill, the nurse who looked after Keith's stab wound, was there to bring home her little girl, and her sister Dana was along for the ride.

Hanook, our translator and guide for most of the week, with Jonathan, a college student from our home state. He arrived on the same flight as us, rode the van back to the same guest home where he stayed the week too. Small world.

The four of us had a little night out on the town. Yes, even in Ethiopia there is a good time to be had. Look at how excited we are. Full of energy and gusto.

Hours later, Keith is about to fall asleep and I'm getting snuggled in. Ahh, the mid 30s has take its toll on us.

Although Keith thinks I'm high maintenance, his inquiry about a "fan" put the guest home employees into 3-day hunt all over town. Once they figured out they needed to be looking for a "ventilator," the job was done. The evenings cool off enough to serve as an air conditioner, for most people, if you just leave the window open. However, Keith is not most people. Back in college, he slept with his door open during the winter and woke many mornings to frost or snow covered furniture. I keep telling him he needs to change our thermostat so that he can acclimate himself to a new standard. He tells me I need to start acclimating myself to injera. Our argument stops there.

More about Ethiopia soon. Hopefully.