I think the hardest thing about living overseas was the distance from family. I had nephews and a niece that I had never met and who were growing up without knowing their cousins. My boys never had the opportunity to sit on Grandma's lap for a story, or go for a ride with Grandpa. The distance felt bigger and bigger the longer we were overseas and the older our children got.

So how do you bridge that gap? How do you stay connected with family far away? Here are a couple things we did . . . but this list is very short and small. Please add your ideas in the comments below!

1) Skype or other form of video call. Maybe this one seems obvious, but make sure you use it! Although my boys couldn't cuddle with Grandma, they always looked forward to seeing her "on the video". They would show their newest Duplo creations, talk about what they've been doing, even sing songs and read stories together over the video. We also did things like set the laptop down on the floor so they could watch the baby crawl. If your little ones aren't used to interacting over the computer, it might take a couple times to get used to it. But if you do it regularly, they'll soon look forward to it!

2) Picture book of family. My mom made a cute pocket-size photo album of with pictures of each family member, with words that could be read to the boys as a story. "My name is David. This is my Mommy. This is my Daddy. We are a family." It had pictures of each family member holding David as a baby, pictures of the whole family together, and so on. It was one of his favorite books for a LOOONG time - and even when it got knocked off the favorites list, we continued to bring it out at key times when we wanted to talk about our family in America.

3) Videos of everything. You can't be on Skype all the time, so I'm glad we have video on our cameras and on our phones. Baby's first steps, the children playing in the rain, a two-year-old explaining how something works - videos record those moments that family can't be there for. You can also record yourself singing Happy Birthday to a family member, or giving a special message. There are apps - like WhatsApp - that are great for quickly sending pictures, voice recordings and videos from your phone. Or you can upload to a shared folder in Dropbox or GoogleDrive or something like that.

4) Lists of favorites, sizes, special treats, etc. As your children grow and change, it's hard for those far away to keep up with everything. What is their favorite color? What animals are they fascinated by? What size clothing do they wear now? If you send a list of favorites, treats that would be special, toys that you would like them to have, etc, it really helps loved ones to know what kind of gifts to send. How well I remember the disappointment of receiving a special package (which cost so much shipping in the States AND so much customs in Ghana!) only to find that it contained three kinds of candy that none of us like. We tried to eat it out of obligation, and ended up throwing it away. :-( How much better to give your loved ones a list to work from, so that they can be confident you will appreciate the things they're sending.

 

Now it's your turn - how do you stay connected with your loved ones?

 

 

 

One of our most commonly-available vegetables when we lived overseas was cabbage. In the States, I almost NEVER use cabbage. So it was an adjustment to learn to put cabbage in everything - stirfry, fried rice, soups, etc. But still my favorite way to use cabbage is by making coleslaw - and this creamy version with a special crunch is the BEST!!!

Special Slaw

1/2 head cabbage, shredded

1 carrot, shredded

1 T.  finely chopped onion

1/2 c. mayonaise

1 Tbsp sugar

1 Tbsp vinegar

1/4 tsp salt

1 pkg Ramen noodles

Combine cabbage, carrot and onion. In seperate bowl, combine dressing ingredients. Add to vegetables and mix gently.

Crush ramen noodles in package before opening. Toast in skillet (with a tiny bit of oil) until brown and crispy. Sprinkle over coleslaw right before serving for a delicious treat!

Do you have a favorite coleslaw recipe?

In my family growing up, chocolate cake was a rare treat. It was a birthdays-only special, and  there were only five of us, so at most we had it five times a year. In my husband's family, on the other hand, chocolate cake is a complete meal. :-) I don't know if there's much he enjoys more than a piece of chocolate cake in a bowl with milk poured over it. Needless to say, I have learned to make chocolate cake a little more often than five times a year. :-)

I have two favorite chocolate cake recipes. They both come from a great cookbook called "The Basics and More Cookbook". (More about cookbooks in a future post!) My husband's favorite is actually an oatmeal cake. It is super-moist and tastes great even without frosting. I made it three or four times before I told him that it has oatmeal in it (he doesn't like oatmeal!). The second is better if you're living in a primitive setting. Although you do need cocoa powder, you don't need butter, eggs, or milk for this yummy cake!

 

And then there's the big question - what about frosting? Powdered sugar can be difficult to find - and if you find it, beware! It could very likely taste more like soap than sugar. Are there alternatives? I have often made chocolate syrup or caramel syrup to drizzle over each slice of cake when serving. Of course fruit is a great topping, especially for other types of cake besides chocolate. :-) I have also made peanut butter "frosting" by heating PB and regular sugar together. What are some alternatives that you've used?

 

 

Chocolate Oatmeal Cake

1 c. quick oats

2 c. boiling water

2 c. brown sugar

1 c. butter or oil

4 eggs

2 tsp baking soda

1 T. hot water

2 c. flour

1/3 c. cocoa

2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp salt

2 tsp vanilla

Pour boiling water over oatmeal. Cover and let cool. Cream sugar and butter. Add beaten eggs and vanilla. Dissolve soda in 1 Tbsp hot water and add. Add oatmeal mixture, then sifted dry ingredients. Grease a 9x13 pan and bake at 350 for 40 to 45 minutes.

Wacky Cake - aka Egg-less, Butter-less, Milk-less Cake

3 c. flour

2 c. sugar

6 T. cocoa powder

3 tsp baking soda

1 tsp salt

2 c. water

3/4 c. oil

4 T. vinegar

Mix all ingredients together. Pour into a greased 13x9 pan and bake at 350 for 35-40 minutes.

 

Do you have a favorite chocolate cake recipe? What's your favorite way to serve cake without frosting? Or your favorite frosting recipe that doesn't use powdered sugar? Please share!!

As dawn breaks over West Africa, our small village comes to life and simultaneously, my children wake up. When we moved to Africa to start our long-term ministry, we decided that for us, language and culture learning would be most efficient if we lived in the middle of the people whose language we were learning, sharing every part of life with them. So here we are, sharing a mud compound with eleven other people, and living in the middle of everything in every respect. This has many perks, such as the fact that since we moved I never once overslept my alarm. Things like that have a way of making a person feel quite accomplished - an instant morning person, just what I always wanted. Never mind the fact that it's not exactly voluntary.

It seems that my kids always wake up famished and the scramble for breakfast starts immediately. My cooking happens on charcoal and I'm relieved that the grandmother of the family already has a fire blazing, so my breakfast preparations get a nice kickstart. Meanwhile, my husband huddles around a little fire outside of the compound with the other men. The kids love the little fire... My oldest (4) gathers armfuls of grass and sticks and soon the fire is not so little anymore. The temperatures in dry season drop to all of sixty in the mornings... and if the days are up to 100 F that really does feel cold!  No complaints from me. I am putting some water on my fire to make myself some coffee... It's not real coffee, of course, but even instant will help to sustain my not so convincing morning person-persona.

By now, my brain is starting to wake up as well and I mentally prepare for another day of language. I have discovered a strange and interesting phenomenon. Language learning makes me feel so weird... Like a split person... Like almost schizophrenic...or maybe I should just say, it's a real roller coaster. Two sides of me-one saying: wow! I am learning this language! And the other one: I will never. ever. learn this language. These two me's flip back and forth all day long, sometimes from one minute to the next. Buckle your seatbelt for language learning... It is fun, it is hard, it is exciting and it is boring.

A lady walks into the compound with a large bucket on her head... Selling morning porridge. Thankful that I don't have to think about what to make, I buy several calabash dippers full and my oldest is happy. We were on a short 5 month missions trip in Africa when she was a baby starting on solids, and African foods are her comfort foods. Quite convenient for me. I complete the transaction and some small talk... Wow! I am learning this language! I utilize my fire to cook beans for lunch instead.

After breakfast, I take my bucket and head to the pump for water, the girls trailing behind me. This is where the women of the village hang out. Several conversations fill the air. I scramble to pick up even one word. How will I EVER learn this language? One of the ladies comes over and greets me and I am able to respond correctly and answer her questions about my plans for the day. Maybe I AM learning. Then it's my turn at the pump... And to carry it home. No matter how hard I try, this I WILL not learn, ever. I need both hands, tightly, while my neighbor girl waltzes by with eight gallons on her head, unsupported. Ah well. Know your limits.

One of my friends stops by and I grab the chance for some more language while my girls play. We get on the topic of tone... Words that are identical except for their tone. I can't even.... and I will NEVER.

After doing some wash, which I do almost daily to avoid the depressing sight of a mountain that needs to be washed by hand, it's lunchtime. This always comes sooner than I expect and is signalled by a sudden contagious meltdown among the kids. I am grateful I have beans cooked and we make a quick lunch of those. I'm not sure where my husband is.... Off with the village men either farming or hunting. The great advantage of living in a community like this is that wherever he is, someone will feed him lunch so I don't worry about it. We read a book and then it's naptime... My 1.5 year old quickly falls asleep on the cool cement floor and my 4-year old plays by herself on a mat. Now is my time to study. But I'm exhausted so the next thing I know is waking up. Oh dear, I will never learn this language... What AM I going to do?! The baby's still out so I take the moment to wash my dirty dishes out in a bowl in the compound. Some of the women have just come back from farm and are discussing their day. Without realizing it, I understand and ask a few questions. Oh wow, look, I'm learning after all... Are power naps language learning tools...? I think I will choose to believe so. 

The girls are both up now and we head out of the compound so they can play in the shade under the trees. I take my phone out to listen to language recordings I have made. But constant little-people-interruptions make me give up. Hopeless, this language. Then I hear my little girls fighting, using about as much English as our tribal language. I smile under my hand and resolve to LEARN this language lest even my own children get the best of me.

It's time to start making supper and to bathe some unbelievably dirty little children. We don't have electricity so I try to get things done before dark. My husband is back and I gratefully accept his offer to wash the girls,  because he's got both more patience and more determination to clean them up as well as possible. For however long it will last. I love evening time... We just swept the compound so it's nice and tidy, everyone's busy cooking and bathing in the outdoor stalls and talking, always talking. I remember that this is why we chose to live this way. To really be a part of things - and to be surrounded by language. The air is smoky, the sun sets red into the bush, and I'm in love with our life.

Now for supper. I am going to make the staple dish of cornmeal mush tonight, just like everyone else. My new grandmother has spent a lot of time teaching me how, but even yet, I'm a whole lot more awkward at it than even the young girls and that is funny. Except not really funny to me. Forget it, what we need is a house far away from anyone so i can just cook in peace! Then an old lady walks into the compound. 'Nemoti! (my new name) you are making tizet?' and she turns to our house grandmother and says - 'Then she is really trying to be like us!' - and up swings the roller coaster, over the little mud huts and the grass roofs, over the dirt and the smoke, to a glorious height right into the sunset. Let tomorrow come as may... I am going to try to stay in this precarious little spot just for tonight.

 

Hey, TCKmoms, this is our final "Day in the Life". Hasn't it been fun to get a peek into each other's lives? If any of you didn't participate in the giveaway but would still like to write a "Day in the Life" I'd love to hear from you!! You can fill out the email form here, or you can simply click "reply" if you're receiving this as an email. I also welcome questions, suggested topics, recipes, stories, and guest posts from our readers!