We all know that for a wife and mommy, the reality of culture shock sometimes hits home in the kitchen. What on earth am I going to make that my family will enjoy, something that's nutritious as well?  You open any typical American cookbook and gaze at the recipes calling for a can of condensed soup or pounds of meat or cups (CUPS!) of cheese and quickly slam it shut before homesickness hits too hard.

I don't even keep a typical cookbook in my African house. However, I do have a few international cookbooks within reach at all times. These have been such a huge help to me. Sometimes for actual recipes and other times just for inspiration.

 

1. The Wycliffe Cookbook
This cookbook was compiled by Wycliffe members in many countries. It has lots of simple recipes and lots of variations. If you don't have something, this cookbook will likely give you a substitute idea.

2. The More With Less cookbook
Lots of simple recipes with basic ingredients.

3. Extending the Table
This one is full of international recipes. I have found that though i live in Africa, many times it is much easier to get my hands on the ingredients for Indian or Middle Eastern food than Western food (that seems to be dominated by meat and cheese). I love this cookbook - there are lots of stories and quotes in it that make for fun cookbook browsing!

4. Taste of Africa

This was actually compiled by our missionaries in West Africa. Lots of good simple recipes, some unique to W. Africa. Great ideas of how to simplify American foods or use local foods to make "American" dishes!

 

Do you have any cookbook recommendations?

I don't remember when I first came across the idea of being a household manager, but it changed the way I looked at my role. It was also kind of a "duh" moment for me. Being a homemaker is really much more than being just a maid - I am managing the basics of life for a household of people! Of course, we all know that a mom wears many hats - and a mom living overseas might even wear a few more than she would in the States. But I had never seen the drudgery and chaos of motherhood in the light of being the household manager. The idea was refreshing and empowering.

The title of "manager" especially felt appropriate when we moved to the capital city to run our organization's guest house. Suddenly I was not just taking care of my own household. I was overseeing and directing the work of those "under" me - the boy who mowed the lawn, the boy who ran errands, the housekeeper who prepared the guest rooms, and the girl who hung out the laundry. It required me to take my job even more seriously and be more organized than I might have just for my own family.

I have certainly found, as every mother has, that there are some ways to make home life smoother and more pleasant for everyone involved. I am not an excellent homemaker by any means. In fact, I write this article for myself because I need the encouragement and reminder. But here are some things that are helping me to be a better manager of my home.

1) Set achievable goals. First of all, do set goals. If you are not aiming for improvement, you will not achieve it. But secondly, make sure they are achievable. Start with one thing at a time. Especially if you are feeling overwhelmed with your life & responsibilities, don't try to change everything at once. Set a few small, achievable goals. Once you are well on your way to accomplishing those, you can set a few more.

2) Identify your "sore spot" and work on that first. What area of household management is causing the most trouble for you? Is it not having church clothes ironed on Sunday morning? Is it the mess your husband comes home to in the stressful "supper time crunch"? Maybe it's not having a quick lunch to prepare in the middle of a home-school day. Identify your recurring "sore spot" and then sit down and consider what changes you can make to relieve this stress point. Make that your first goal to work towards.

3) Be focused. If you had a 9-5 office job, you wouldn't take an hour mid-morning to browse Facebook or Pinterest. Consider the home and family your "work", and stay focused there throughout the day. Granted, motherhood often has strange hours, and perhaps your baby's mid-morning nap is your only personal free time. Then take it without guilt! But if overall you're staying focused on your responsibilities and not getting distracted by technology, social media, or whatever it may be, you will find it easier to be productive and organized.

4) Make a schedule and/or routine - but make it work for you. There is a lot of freedom in having a flexible schedule that allows you to make changes as necessary, but still make sure the basics of life get taken care of.

 

5) Develop systems - again, systems are for your benefit. They work for you, so that you're not constantly faced with a myriad of decisions from day to day. This can include meal plan systems (Mexican every Friday night, pasta every Tuesday), housework routines (laundry every Wednesday) and so on. It also includes things like having an "inbox basket" where all mail is deposited so that mail isn't scattered throughout the house, having a place for schoolbooks and papers waiting to be graded, and so on. This is helpful because it saves you the constant questions from children coming to you ("here's my paper, Mommy, where should I put it?") as well as making it harder for you to misplace things!

 

6) Make lots of lists - and categorize them - and keep them all in one place. I have a "To Do" list, a "To buy" list, a "To Write" list, and a "To Talk About with Hubby" list, just to name a few! :-) For me, it works well to keep these on a note app in my phone, so that they are always with me.

 

7) Delegate. I have been realizing lately how many chores a four-year-old is capable of doing. Even my two-year-old helps me put away dishes and straighten up the living room. Yes, when they are preschoolers it is definitely more work to let them help you than to just do it yourself. But it won't be long before they can actually be a big help - especially if you are willing to lower your standards a little, and let the job be done "good enough".

 

Help me out here! What are some tips you've learned for keeping up with your responsibilities as a household manager? Please share in the comments!

 

I’m not a cat person.

First of all, I’m allergic to them. They make me sneeze, and my eyes water, and my nose itch. Just looking at a cat makes me think of miserable nights that I couldn’t sleep because I couldn’t breathe because I was in a house FULL of cat hair.  It’s happened more than once.

So my husband had to do some real sweet-talking to convince me we needed to bring a kitten with us as we moved to our new house. He didn’t have to convince me the kitty was cute - I couldn’t deny that. And when he started reminding me of how over-run with mice our previous house was - how I couldn’t even keep my dishes in the cabinets because they would get covered with mouse droppings overnight - how we tried and tried and tried to trap them, sometimes getting two or three in a night but never, never getting them all - well, I started to cave.

I did cave. We kept the kitten.

He’s been a member of our family for a year now. He’s grown from a cute kitten to a beautiful cat. There is something luxurious about a sleek tomcat sunning himself in front of the living room window. But my husband has had to convince me over and over again that we should keep him - like, every time I wake up to the strong smell of tomcat urine and find that he marked his territory on my favorite throw rug.

“But we don’t have mice!” hubby says sweetly.

“I’d rather have mice than this stench!” I retort sharply.

“But remember how bad it was? How you couldn’t even keep dishes in the cabinets?” I sigh and shake my head and clean up the mess again.

But the cat stays.

Then there’s the way he scares our boys. The screams of terror from my three year old as the cat stalks him. Seriously, a stalking cat is creepy! And when he’s stalking your own child, it’s just not okay.

“But we don’t have mice!” my husband reminds me.

“I’d rather have mice - at least they don’t make my babies cry.”

But the cat stays.

And then . . . I found mouse droppings in a cabinet.

A day or two later, I heard a mouse scurrying away when I flipped on the kitchen light.

The next day, I actually saw the creature dash from counter to stove before disappearing.

And then, the final crowning insult, I stood in the kitchen doorway in broad daylight as a mouse crawled onto the stove, climbed into a dirty pot, and proceeded to eat his lunch from the scraps of our lunch while I watched.

And the cat slept.

I burst into my husband’s office, “That’s it! The cat is going! The only reason he’s still here is because he keeps the mice away. Now I have a mouse and a cat. This is not okay!”

I don’t remember what he responded. Maybe something like, “He just needs some time to catch it.”

But that night, after we put the boys in bed and the cat was rubbing around our ankles, arching his back and asking for attention, my husband looked at me sheepishly.

“I just like him,” he said.

And so the cat stays.

I’ll see if I can find mouse traps next time I go to market.

**This post was actually written almost a year ago, while we were still living in West Africa.**

Mice in the house is a common problem - even in parts of America! Do you have mice in your kitchen? What do you do about them? Share your advice (and funny stories!) in the comments!

LAUNDRY . . . that never-ending chore. Some of us have trouble keeping up with it in the States, in spite of our convenient washing machines, dryers, and excellent stain-removers. Move overseas, where you may not have machines or a handy "stain stick" to help with the process, and it can be a huge chore!

I've assembled a few of my own tips for doing laundry, both with a washing machine and without. This is certainly not an exhaustive list, but maybe it can be a discussion-starter!

General Tips:

**If you're having trouble with rashes or odors, soak bras & underwear overnight in a disinfectant solution before washing. Be sure to rinse well.

**Use vinegar in your rinse to keep towels smelling fresh, and as a natural fabric softener.

**Soak baby messes and vomit & diarrhea messes in a disinfectant solution immediately, for at least a couple hours up to a whole day. Then rub soap directly into the stain before washing.

**Whenever possible, treat & soak stains while they're fresh, then wash within 24 hours. Stains allowed to dry and set for several days will be much harder to remove. When I have a bad stain, I wet the garment, rub soap into the stain, and then put it into a bucket of water to soak until I can wash it. Just be sure to wash within 24 hours or your water (and garment!) will start getting smelly.

**Ask around and find out what is used locally for bad stains or for whitening clothes. You probably won't have access to the brands that you are used to, and the soaps that are available will probably be simple bar soaps. However, it is amazing how well some of them work!

 Handwashing:

**With unreliable power and no laundromats when traveling, you will probably have to wash some clothes by hand at some point, even if you have a washing maching at home. I highly reccomend hiring a local woman to do your laundry if you have to wash by hand on a regular basis. If you do this, be sure to find out cultural norms for washing undergarments, as in some places it is very offensive to let another person wash your underwear.

**For normal, lightly soiled clothes, have two tubs - wash and rinse. For dirty clothes, do a pre-wash, then wash and rinse. For baby clothes, cloth diapers, or sensitive skin, you will probably need to do a second rinse. I've had as many as four tubs of water set up while I'm doing laundry!! But if you only have ONE tub or bucket, you can still just do one "cycle" at a time, piling your clothes on a clean surface and dumping the water in your bucket in between washes/rinses.

**To remove dirt and grime from jeans, jackets, or other extra-dirty (but also sturdy) clothes, wet the clothing and then use a scrub brush to scrub in the soap and scrub out the dirt.

**Soak extra-dirty clothes overnight to soften the grime before washing.

**When possible, get someone to help you wring out jeans, towels, and sheets - the better they are wrung out, the faster they will dry. Jeans take long enough to dry in a humid climate as it is!

Drying:

**This is kind of a no-brainer, but try to get your laundry done as early in the day as possible to allow maximum time for drying.

**In very humid climates, hang clothes so that they are not touching eachother and are spread out on the line as much as possible. The more airflow around them, the faster they will dry.

**Have a clothesline set up inside if possible, to bring clothes in when it starts raining, or to hang clothes up overnight. Ideally, have a stand fan that you can set up to blow on the clothes in an emergency.

**Some regions have insects that lay their eggs in drying clothes, and when you're wearing the clothes, the eggs hatch and the worms burrow into your skin. YUCK!! If these nasty creatures live in your area, hanging your clothes in the sun and not leaving them on the line overnight will prevent this problem.

Now it's your turn. What laundry tips can you share with us? Any tricks for stain removal, or for washing by hand?