Today we have another question from a reader - thank you for asking, ladies! Keep the questions coming! Today's question was beyond my stage of parenting, so I enlisted a dear older friend of mine, who has raised 5 boys on the mission field over the last 20 years. I'm excited to share Cynthia's wisdom, but also interested to hear thoughts and advice from others!

Question:

"We live in the city here, and we have NO grass... no courtyard, nothing but a garage and the street, and a little strip of dirt on the other side of the street. We are very thankful for what we do have... but it doesn't provide work for your BOY and work is what he desperately needs. We've given him all sorts of indoor chores, but that's just indoor chores--it's not the type of work that he really needs at this point in life... work like hauling wood, caring for chickens, mowing lawn, pulling weeds, and all that sort of thing. It also doesn't allow very much of the type of free outdoor, run-and-play type development that encourages make-do skills, building and creating... all those things. We've banged our heads against that wall of what we don't have so often that we're sore. It finally occurred to us that... we should stop. =) If we cannot do anything about it, we're going to have to work with what we have. So my question is really this: how do other people work with that?"

Cynthia's Thoughts: Some Ideas For Boys While Living In A City Type Environment
Yes, we do understand that boys need active and constructive things to do to run off or use up their abundance of energy. We had 4 sons left at home when we moved to a city suburb in Africa with a small amount of grass and a small garden. The garden was seasonal and when the dry season came there was nothing of that to do. Also, there was no grass to cut during dry season. It was a challenge to keep our boys profitably occupied but we really did see the need for it and tried hard to keep them busy! At the present time we have only 2 sons left at home and their ages are 15 and 18. 
*Raising animals taught discipline as our sons learned to feed and care for them. Rabbits and guinea pigs can be raised in cages in a small place. We hardly had enough space for chickens. 
*How about carpentry? My husband had been a carpenter by trade so it came naturally for him to help our sons to learn to make things with wood. This is a wonderful way for them to be creative! Maybe you can get some tools and wood and let him learn to use them to make items for you to use around the house like little stools, benches, tables, etc. You can use the corner of a garage and let it become a carpentry shop area. I heard of one mom that had four boys who ended up learning carpentry so that she would have something to do with her boys.
*Learn to be a fixit man while young!  My husband, also by his example, showed our boys how to do about any type of handyman fix-it job around the house, indoors and outdoors. That has been a tremendous blessing for all of us!
*Gardening is great! Would that strip of dirt across the street be sufficient for fencing around and making a small garden? What about using large flower pots (or buckets, misc containers, etc) for gardening right around your house? You can stake a tomato in a pot or make a trellis to prop up beside a pot for a cucumber vine to grow on. Maybe you could use a rectangular box pot for growing lettuce, etc. This is not hard work but is profitable and is better than nothing.
*A competitive game like soccer with neighbor boys at a nearby park or field is a good way for a son to play hard, sweat, and use up extra energy. Another family member can also go along to watch over and be an encouragement. We have allowed this and it has worked out well for us.
*If there is an interest in motors he could learn some things about mechanics and tear apart old motors, using those which would be according to his age level, of course. This was a project that several of our boys worked on. They even made a little go-cart-type thing using the wheels from a child's wagon. 
*Biking is another thing that our boys have done. Often two went together when they were younger. As they got older and more trustworthy, I would send them out on errands to the nearby market or street vendors for food ingredients or whatever I needed. They loved to run errands for mother, but mostly because they loved the chance to bike! :-)
God bless you as you raise your son and keep him busy!
******
Let's hear some ideas from the rest of you! How do you keep your children occupied and teach them responsibility with little or no outdoor space?

I'm thrilled to share a question from a subscriber today. I will share the question and give a few of my thoughts, but she's asking for input from all of you as well! Also, if you have a question that you'd like to see discussed on TCKmom, please drop me an email here and let me know!

Question:

We're in the middle of trying to decide if we need to bring over a girl from the States to help out with household chores while I do language learning (we have three little children). I'd love to hear how others do it and what has worked:

1. Is it better to get an American girl who we already know is trustworthy and can quickly fit into her role so I can focus on language learning (AND I could communicate with her immediately)?

2. Or is it better to hire local (African) help? She would give me an opportunity to practice language on a daily basis, but in the beginning we wouldn't be able to communicate in more than signs and wonders. I also may not know if she is trustworthy and a good influence on our children.

I'm leaning towards the African help, so we wouldn't have to have a 'stranger' move in with us, but I don't know if I'm being unrealistic? I would so love to hear from other experienced Moms - what worked, what didn't, what they wish they'd have done differently.

My Thoughts:

I personally have done both with varying degrees of success. We lived in three different locations with three different local helpers, and we also had my sister live with us for six months at one point, and another American young lady stay with us for six weeks when my second son was born. I think there are pros and cons to both, and you have to decide what you're willing to work with and what you're comfortable with. Here are some of the pros and cons that I see.

American Help:

Pros - No communication barrier; trustworthy; might already know and easily connect with your children; understands "strange American ways" of doing things; gives you some companionship.

Cons - Will be going through culture shock along with you; will need to adjust & learn how to do life overseas; will need support, friendship, mentorship from you; will change your family dynamics by living in your home; significant expense involved (plane tickets, visa, health care, etc); personalities and lifestyle differences may clash and cause stress.

Local Help:

Pros - can help you with language learning; can easily do shopping and cooking local dishes for you with little or no direction; can be a connection between you and the culture and local community; can force you to connect with locals rather than stay in your comfortable relationships at home; are often hard workers; wages are often quite minimal;

Cons - communication barrier can be frustrating and stressful; unused to strange American ways of doing things; may not be trustworthy/dependable/hard-working; may not connect well with your children;

Personally, I recommend local help. But here are a few more things I would suggest:

**If possible, chose an individual on the recommendation of someone else. Ideally find someone who has worked for expats before, because they will understand your needs better (and maybe even know some English!). But at least go through a local pastor or trusted friend who can help you find an individual who is more likely to be trustworthy and meet your needs.

**I would recommend an older woman (marriageable age, if not married) rather than a young girl. I started out with a young girl because I was intimidated by the idea of hiring a woman my age or older. But I found that girls took a lot of direction and oversight and didn't tend to be as reliable. An older woman is more likely to be trustworthy and dependable, and work without your constant oversight. The wonderful house-help that I have now is always going above and beyond what I ask, seeing things that need done and taking care of them without being told. It's amazing!

**When possible, allow a local helper to do things her way. It will create good cultural lessons for you, and it she will be happier to work for you if she's comfortable with what is required of her. Obviously there are things you need to be particular about, but when you can, relax and let her do it the way she's used to. You might find it actually works better than the way you're used to doing it!

**If you do bring an American helper, chose wisely. You don't have time for a mentoring project if you're doing language learning. Ideally, bring a girl who has been overseas before, or at least been away from home. Someone that you know, and know that you can work well with, is also helpful.

Now let's hear from others. What have you done? What worked for you? What would you recommend?

I am a huge believer in identifying what exactly causes the most stress in our lives - and then finding a solution for it. Here's two of my favorite solutions that make village life just a bit easier. These two are just to get us all started... add your comments, please! :-)

My number one every-day stress: trying to cook over a charcoal fire with a one-year-old into everything. OK, it's definitely not the worst thing ever. But day after day, it can get on your nerves. Especially for someone like me, whose food has a mysterious tendency to either burn, boil over, or just flop in general if I turn my back for so much as a second.

Solution #1. A baby swing. {My husband deserves all the credit for this - he came up with the idea AND made the thing out of bamboo from our back yard!} We hung this from the rafters on the veranda where I cooked. I used it EVERY day. She had a perfect bird's eye view of the cooking process, she could swing and get some breeze in the sweltering afternoon (I honestly got jealous sometimes, ha!) and she was safely contained. The neighborhood kids loved to come and push her - a good way for them to interact without a lot of oversight needed. This was a WINNER. Highly recommended!

Solution #2. A prayer mat. I was so amazed at how easy it was to teach my one-year-old to stay on a prayer mat for a certain amount of time. And we're not the kind of parents whose kids are just naturally obedient, ahem. But this works! (She still loves it at almost 3 years old). I set a timer and she gets some specific toys and books. She's right where I am, but I can work in peace for a little. This worked awesome too when we had a new baby and I needed to be able to nurse without interruptions.

SO, what are your little things that make a big difference?

As a mommy of littles, mornings are a challenge. Gone are the days of sipping hot tea as I have a leisurely devotion time, while the smell of a baking breakfast casserole (prepared the night before) fills the house. Now there are diapers to change, trips to the potty, wet pajamas and bedsheets to deal with, children fussing for drinks, and a hundred other things to do before breakfast hits the table. If that isn't enough, early morning (as in 6-8am) is also the time we get all the door-to-door vendors selling the days' supply of fruits, vegetables, bread, etc. So it's not unusual to get 3 or 4 knocks on the door in the midst of getting children out of bed and breakfast on the table. And preparing something the night before? If I'm still standing by the time both boys are asleep, it's a miracle!

Where we live, breakfast cereal is non-existent or VERY expensive. So just throwing Cheerios on the table isn't an option. The most common breakfast eaten by our local friends is a watery corn or millet porridge which really doesn't do much for hungry tummies in my opinion. So what are my options? Eggs are fast, and we eat them with toast most days. But I get tired of serving the same thing over and over . . . and without cheese, bacon, sausage, and other "normal" breakfast foods, I feel at a loss to know how to put variety in our diet.

So this post is asking you for help, rather than giving you a lot of ideas. What are your favorite breakfast menus? How do you handle the morning rush and still put decent food on the table for your family? Please share ideas, suggestions and recipes!