Maybe you call it furlough, or maybe you call it home-leave or home-assignment. Whatever the term, it can be intimidating to look ahead. How do you prepare? Are you thinking of everything? How do you "live" in two worlds at the same time, planning and preparing for your months in the States at the same time you're wrapping up and saying goodbye in your host country?

Here are some resources that I found while we were preparing for furlough (and since we've been in the States) that have been a great help to me. Some are specific to furlough, some to permanent re-entry, and some just address transition in general. Also, if you haven't read the recent posts right here on TCKmom about how to provide stability for your children through transitions and how to survive a long plane ride with small children, you'll won't want to miss them!

This is a good planning-ahead article: 7 Things to Do 6 Months Before Departure

This helpful checklist focuses largely on the financial aspects of furlough planning: Home Assignment Checklist

If you're trying to organize a large number of speaking engagements, this might be useful: A Helpful App for Missionaries

More specific to permanently leaving your overseas assignment: 8 Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me and What {You} Ought to Know About Re-Entry

And for those helping children through all the changes: Little Lives in Big Transitions

What do you have to add? Any resources that have helped you with furlough preparation and transitions? Any personal words of advice for those facing it for the first time? Please share in the comments below!

A couple weeks ago I posted about cooking from scratch. We had some great discussion in the comments afterwards! But there was one question that came up which didn't receive an answer. I'd like to revisit that question again today. Can anyone help us?

Question:

I would love to know your trick for making homemade tortillas! I tried just this week and it was a disaster. I couldn't get them thin enough without falling to pieces so we ended up with thick tortillas that wouldn't easily bend. We can get flour tortillas in the store, but a recent diagnosis of celiac disease has me attempting to make a lot more things myself now, so I found a recipe using corn flour, salt and water.

I make flour tortillas all the time, but I have never succeeded at corn tortillas. I tried two different times, and then gave up. :-) It seems to me that the corn flour lacks the stickiness necessary to roll out a good tortilla. But I know it must be possible!

So what are your tricks, ladies? Have any of you made corn tortillas? Would you be willing to share your recipe? How do you roll them out and fry them without everything falling apart?

It suddenly struck me, when my firstborn was about two and a half, that he needed something to play with. He was done with the toddle-around-and-play-with-anything stage. He was bored of the few baby toys we'd brough over when he was four months old. He had a few Matchbox cars and a small collection of MegaBlocks that constituted his daily occupation. And he needed more.

I found a few Mommy-Blogs which threatened to send me into instant depression. These moms had multiple sensory bins (what's that?), water tables for tactile play, all manner of arts and crafts ideas, and even ABC worksheets to use with special "dot markers" - for their 18-mo-olds! My children were growing up deprived! I wanted to run to the store and spend hundreds of dollars on all the important items my children were missing out on.

Except that there wasn't a store to run to. Nowhere to buy supplies for arts and crafts. No playdough. No finger paint. No dot markers. I took a deep breath and suddenly realized that somehow I made it to 30 years old without sensory bins. I even got good grades in highschool in spite of my deprived toddlerhood. Maybe my boys would be okay. ;-)

But I still wanted to find something to keep them busy, so I did a little more research, and some experimenting of my own, and came up with a great recipe for playdough. It was an instant hit, and continues to be an often-asked-for favorite, over a year later. There's so many uses for playdough, from play-cooking to sculpting, to re-inforcing learning (we count balls as we make them, or shape bits of playdough into the letters that we're learning).

The Best Playdough Recipe

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 tsp. cream of tarter
  • 1/3 cup salt
  • 1 TBS vegetable oil
  • food coloring
Instructions
  1.  Mix together all the ingredients, except the food coloring, in a medium saucepan.
  2. Cook over low/medium heat, stirring. Once it begins to thicken, add the food coloring.
  3. Continue stirring until the mixture is much thicker and begins to gather around the spoon.
  4. Once the dough is not wet, remove and put onto wax paper or a plate to cool.
  5. After cooling (30 minutes) knead playdough for a few seconds.
  6. PLAY!

What activities have you found to keep your children busy? Any recipes or suggestions for craft supplies that aren't available in your location? Maybe you have a favorite playdough recipe that you'd like to share. Has anyone tried making playdough without cream of tarter?

The other day, my husband and I were talking about what we should be praying towards as we look at moving back to Africa this summer. As we discussed our past experiences overseas, one thing stood out to me - one factor that has made the difference for me between just living in Africa and actually loving Africa. I spent time in a country in West Africa, about evenly divided between the north part of the country and the south. And in both those areas, I had a Friend-with-a-capital-F.

I had a Friend in the north. It just sort of happened - I was helping her with her English and we often ended up laying on the floor in her room talking. We'd go to her farm and laugh and talk the day away. We'd chat about what we were thinking. We went places together, biking and talking. I loved it!

After a couple years, I moved south. This was going to be a new experience for me - a new tribe, a new language, a different culture. I distinctly remember praying about this and asking God to give me another Friend. Not until months later did I realize that He had answered my prayer far beyond my expectations. "Z" and I got so close. She was incredibly patient with my babytalk in her language, and it wasn't long till we could chat for hours (ok, disregarding grammar rules, but hey!) We were pregnant together. Moaned through morning sickness together. Discussed our religions (she was Muslim). Laughed our heads off. Brought each other meals. I'd hold her colicky baby while she got a quick bath. Now that we're living in the States, she calls regularly. She, single-handedly, made the difference for me. I loved living there.

Of course, we had more friends than that. Lots of people I could go hang out with, visit, or have a meal with - there's nothing like African hospitality. Lots of people I related with daily, and loved. But the gift of a Friend-with-a-capital-F... that's on a different level. Someone who will voluntarily open up and share. About anything, everything. Someone that will initiate in the friendship. That will tell me if I'm blundering culturally in some way. That will actually tell me how I am perceived in the village. Someone that treats me like a Friend, not like the foreigner that I am. That is huge!

I am not talking about an official "language helper" here. At the same time, I believe having friendships like this is an ideal way to learn more about the language and culture. Also, I believe it is a powerful antidote for culture shock and loneliness. It means that instead of always turning to your fellow expats or your social media to fill those friendship needs in your life, you can start being blessed by relating within your host culture, too. As wives and mothers, it is easy for us to get stuck in our house, relating to our family only. Don't let it happen to you. I believe God wants you to love your new culture, too; and some genuine friendships are a huge help with that.

Of course, besides prayer, there's some work to this, too.

To begin with, you have to build as many relationships as you can. Make friends everywhere. Keep your eyes open for a potential Friend. Don't expect someone to just walk in the door someday. In both instances I told you about, it took months. You do have to do something - get out of your house, get out of your comfort zone, and get into people's lives. My Friend in the north was actually hiding inside of someone I had known for quite a while, and she didn't pop out until I started spending time with her on a regular basis.

Here are a couple ideas to get started. For example, incorporate a daily stroll with your children into your routine. Maybe there's someone that's always in the same place each afternoon, such as a shop keeper? She might be bored waiting for customers and happy to hang out for a little bit. Maybe there's someone sick or disabled who has all the time in the world? Maybe there's a neighbor lady who would love to help you learn to cook local food, or someone who has children the ages of yours, and you can sit with her while the little ones play.... My experiences are in rural Africa, but with a little creative thinking, these suggestions probably work in other places, too.

Sure, it takes a lot of time, and it is not easy. Sometimes, all you want to do is stay home - the last thing you feel like doing is venturing out, again, to bug people, again. To make a fool of yourself, again, because you don't speak the language well and you don't know the culture well. Sometimes, someone you thought was going to be an awesome Friend, turns out to just be someone who thinks they can get some sort of material benefit from your relationship. It's happened to me, and it's hard. But don't give up! When you do find a Friend, the hard work will pay off.

And when you found her? Go on and find another one :-D

Have fun!

How about you? Have you had a Friend-with-a-capital-F in your location? Any more tips on how to find those Friends or nurture those friendships?