Tuesday, September 30, 2014

September 30, 2014 - Taxes for Expats

Note: This is my first sponsored post.  All details and opinions are mine alone.

You might not know this, but since we’ve moved to Dar I’ve been running a Facebook group for Expat Parents.  In theory it is a place where people can buy/sell their belongs upon coming or going, search for domestic staff, ask questions about where to go and what to do with their families while they are living in Dar.  I started the group with about 8 people (because I only knew 8 people) and it has grown to over 1,800 people now.  I am pretty strict about what I let people post – no stolen iPhones please! No hotel chains! – and Kristoffer has taken to calling me “the Dictator.”   I was actually “spotted” twice recently, approached by strangers who asked, “Are you Lisa from the Facebook group?!  Thank you so much!”  It is a helpful resource for those of us living here temporarily, even if it is an unpaid time-suck for me.

Which leads me to this story…

Earlier in the year I was approached by a company called Taxes for Expats (TFE) to find out if they could advertise in my Facebook group.  While I did say no (I told you I was strict!), it did lead me to have a longer conversation with the company about their services. Taxes for Expats is a company that provides expert, professional tax preparation services for expats.  In some ways I feel TFE was a Godsend because through messaging with one of their associates I learned that I have been really negligent in my taxes since becoming an expat.  Tax law for expats is extremely complicated and I was incredibly na├»ve.  I also learned that if Kristoffer ever wants to get his Greencard in the US, my tax negligence could definitely prevent that from happening.  Granted I didn’t owe very much money because I haven’t made very much money since leaving the US, but I did have some self-employment income that I hadn’t reported and should I get caught in the future my penalties might be higher than what I actually owed.  I also have some foreign bank accounts that I never reported, which is required by law.  Oops! Time to get on top of that as well.

With all of that in mind, I decided to hire TFE.  They have a few options for expats who have been negligent to get back in the good graces of the US Government.  For me, this was a “streamlined” package where they filed the last 3 years of taxes for me along with my foreign account reporting, and I was able to pay the small amount that I owed without penalty.  Now I am no longer delinquent, and TFE has all of my information to help me in the future.  Especially because I was never trying to deceive the government, I feel so much better now that I’m not delinquent anymore.

Once I signed up online, I was matched with a tax professional who asked for some information about me.  This required uploading some documents to my account on their website (past tax returns, for example) and some emailing back and forth before my guy identified just what I needed.  In the end he recommended a plan that was actually LESS than what I was expecting I would have to do.  I felt good that he wasn’t just trying to get me to buy their most expensive services.  He was knowledgeable, friendly over email, and extremely efficient in responding to all of my questions.  I knew what he was doing or what I was supposed to be doing at all times. 

All documents that I uploaded or that they prepared are available to me in my online account anytime.  Once he had everything from me, it took him about 10 days to prepare 3 years of tax returns and 6 years of foreign bank account disclosure.  I had time to review all documents, ask questions, and make changes before it was all finally finished.  In the end I could electronically sign for some things, but had to print and mail other documents directly to the federal government.  I didn’t have to pay TFE until I had agreed that all documents were final, and I was able to do so online.  The little I owed to the government was sent directly to the IRS.

One of the things I liked most about the company was that I was emailed by the President/Founder a number of items to check in with me and see how things were going, if I was happy with my accountant, etc.  She has been running the company for over 20 years with many happy customers; I think she is a real pro (at prepping taxes but also at customer service).

I have not looked into how the costs of TFE’s services compare to the costs of other tax preparation companies, but because I was so stressed about this and had no idea as to how I would even begin to fix the problem on my own, I was happy to hire them.   They have extensive reviews online, which you can find here, but know that I did no comparative research.

They also have a program where you can earn credit on referrals (so if you do business with them you could use me as your reference – go to this website - and I get $75 towards future tax preparation once you file your taxes.  Thanks in advance!) and I am earning credit for this blog as well.

TFE made the process of getting my taxes reorganized and updated extremely easy and the experience was MUCH less stressful than if I had attempted to do it on my own.  I’m always impressed by niche services that target a very specific need in the market and, in this case, I am relieved that I could benefit from such a service.  I highly recommend using this company if you’re in the same situation.


Monday, September 29, 2014

September 29, 2014 - Me Box

Grace's first big school assignment this year was to create a "Me Box".  She could put anything in her box that could describe her (what she loves, who she loves, etc.) and decorate it as she liked as well.  She had to present it to her class a few weeks ago, and then last week all the parents came in for smaller presentations as well.  The box will not stay intact too much longer so I want to make sure to document it before we all forget what was in there, and it is interesting to see the things/symbols she treasures so much.  She was extremely proud of her Me Box, as she is about everything she does in Kindergarten.  We're so happy for Grace that she loves school and is thriving there.

Itemized Me Box (in no particular order):
1. Four flags on the top cover: Tanzania, Kenya, Denmark, USA 
(along with her name "Grace W" and age "5").
2. Swimming certificate.
3. Stuffed elephant from when she was a baby.
4. Small photo book of our extended family that she got for her first Christmas.
5. Family photo after Aya was born.
6. Small photo album of her first year of life.
7. Small photo book of her 5th birthday and birthday party including pictures of all her friends here.
8. A small dragon.
9. A small dinosaur.
10. A small Lego.
11. Her favorite Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle.
12. Her favorite book about dinosaurs.
13. A small toy airplane.
14. Her Nordic School "medal" from when she graduate from pre-school.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

September 28, 2014 - Going Bananas

The watermelon Aya tasted a couple weeks ago was "unofficial."  But today she officially had food for the first time: mashed bananas.  You can decide for yourself after looking at the video and seeing the pictures below, but I'd say it was a huge success :)  Good job me for putting the date as August instead of September (I guess when she's older we'll just "remember" that she was even more advanced!).  Sorry for Kristoffer who is in Bali for a week for a workshop and missed it (That's right. You heard me. Bali. But at least that explains why my brain got the date wrong - first time solo-parenting 3 kids in Tanzania!), but for some reason today just really seemed like the day she was ready.  Cheers to many more happy meals.  

(P.S. The video at the bottom is probably really boring unless you are Aya's grandparents, but I cut it down to only 2 minutes at least!)

(Note that while Aya was very eager for the food and sat there eating for quite some time, the big smiles were for her big sister sitting across the table!)

Sunday, September 21, 2014

September 21, 2014 - Made in Tanzania

Our peanut is 5 months old today!  She has the greatest smile and laugh, which she shares generously and often.  Aya enjoys sitting up a lot of the time now; if she is on the ground she is rolling everywhere.  She can’t crawl but can stick her butt in the air and maneuver to get places.  She can grab things, put weight on her legs, and everything goes in her mouth (or near vicinity).  She is definitely teething.    Aya is still not sleeping well at night – waking 3-5 times – although she did have ONE night this past week when she only woke up once.  Most days she’ll do two short and one longish nap – although I will admit that I find it difficult to keep her on a strict schedule when the rest of us are all over the place.

While she did taste watermelon this week, she is not officially starting food yet – although I’d say in about two weeks she’ll be ready.  She is just now starting to notice us putting food into our mouths, which is a good sign of readiness.  She is starting to be a little bit more interested in books and if you put her in front of the TV she will totally watch it.  It’s kind of funny because Grace was that way as a baby too, but Noah wasn’t.  These days because of our crazy schedule we are not watching a lot of TV, but she has tried it with great focus (as you can see below).  She likes toys with music and still loves her bath.

She is still wearing 3-6 months clothes, but everything that is supposed to be elastic around her legs (like diaper covers with dresses, for example) is very tight around her chunky little thighs.  She had shots two weeks ago and doesn’t need more for a couple more months.  I think she weighs about 14 lbs.

Noah has been especially sweet with Aya in recent weeks and she remains loyal to Grace as her “go to” person for smiles and laughs.  When Aya wakes up in the morning – regardless of her night – she is so smiley and fresh.  You can’t help but adore her.

I’m risking a “jinx” by writing this down, but I do think her sensitivity to cow’s milk is improving (yay for me!  I even had a little bit of cheese this week!) and also that her reflux is getting a little less (although she’s still taking medicine for it).

We all love Aya – she is everybody’s baby in this house – but it hard to believe that she’s almost been here for half of a year.  It’s been like the blink of an eye, sweet girl.  The blink of an eye.

Some shots from the past month...

Watching TV with the big kids!
(Note that we can't really use the baby bouncer as it should be used anymore.  She just wants to sit up, not lay back!)


 (Note:  Made in Tanzania)

Thursday, September 11, 2014

September 11, 2014 - As Always

Today is a day of rememberance.  I was looking through some old papers the other day and found this piece I wrote after 9/11.  It was published in a Syracuse newspaper as a letter to the editor.  I was a wee bit over-the-top in hindsight, but writing was a way to help me deal with my experience of 9/11 and I was certainly sincere in the words I chose to write.  With lots of love to the people I still consider to be my Leadership family.


Wednesday, September 10, 2014

September 10, 2014 - A Day to Remember

Once upon a time, a beautiful little boy was born.  There will soon be a day to remember our grief that his life didn't last very long, but today is a day to celebrate the gift that his life was.  Thinking of our nephew, sweet Kyle Michael, on what would have been his second birthday.  And praying for his parents and sister as they miss him today, and everyday.

Life is truly precious.  And Kyle's was a reminder to all of us not to take even one single day for granted.  


Tuesday, September 9, 2014

September 9, 2014 - Family Ties

For the past week, we've been actively engaged with Kristoffer's uncle and aunt, Gert and Kitte, who visited us from Denmark after they went on Safari and to Zanzibar.  One week was a perfect amount of time with them because they could see all aspects of our daily life (traffic!  school car pool! hanging out at the beach!) in a relaxed way with no time pressure.  They visited the highlights of Dar including shopping and "new" food (their first time eating Ethiopian!).  They even got to take a bike tour around the city with some great young Tanzanian guys.  In general, all of us loved having more family visit us and they were great guests.  They have many of their own grandchildren so were perfect at being with our kids, and all three of them soaked up the extra attention they received.  We are happy to hear they arrived home safely today - just in time for Kitte's birthday (Tillykke!).  Thanks for coming you two!  See you in December!


Sunday, August 31, 2014

August 31, 2014 - Sitting Up!

At 4 months and 9 days old, Aya can now sit up by herself.  No, she can't get into that position by herself of course.  And she doesn't last more than about 3 or 4 minutes before toppling over.  But she CAN do it and seems to almost prefer it to laying down.  One month earlier than Noah did it, two months earlier than Gracie did it.  She's just moving right along, knocking these milestones out one by one.  I am afraid it's all going a little too fast for my liking...with a tooth or two up next on her "to do" list (based on the amount of drooling and crying we've experienced this weekend alone!).

Thursday, August 28, 2014

August 2, 2014 - Growing Pains

It's been a tough week (few weeks?) for us.  Grace's start in Kindergarten has been a roller coaster:  she is really happy at school and loves it there, but is so exhausted that her behavior at home leaves a lot to be desired.  She also had one physical fight with another child already :(  We know other kids having different symptoms of adjusting to the structured school environment with lots of new activities (Kiswahili lessons, music, art, swimming, PE and library!). I know we're in good company, but that doesn't make it much easier in the middle of her extreme temper tantrums.  

In order to be to school on time without sitting in an hour of traffic she has to leave the house at 6:20.  Which means waking up at 5:30.  Which means going to bed by 6:30.  When school is over at 1:45 she either comes home (2 or 3 times a week) or goes to Nordic School for their after school program where she gets to have Danish lessons and be in a safe, comfortable place with her Nordic community for eating, playing, swimming.  It is a wonderful opportunity for her to keep that Nordic connection and start learning to read and write in Danish, but also makes her even more tired.  So we're still working on finding the right balance.  At least she loves her school, loves that she has a lot of friends there and is making new friends even.  Seems to like her teacher, who I will get to know a little bit better this afternoon at the school's first open house.

Then she got head lice (and so did Kristoffer...so far just him), which is MUCH WORSE THAN ANYONE EVER TELLS YOU.  Or maybe it's just because Grace is impossible when it comes to anything related to her hair.  Our past weekend was the worst one on record with new levels of screaming, separations, and very expensive medicines/hair products.  

Then she got sick with a chest infection.  As did Aya (who has both viral and bacterial infections).  Both of them are on antibiotics now.  I hate that Aya needed them already...although I guess Noah's first antibiotics in Kenya started at 16 days old, so at least she is not that young.

Speaking of Noah...he is adjusting to life without Grace at Nordic School pretty well, for the most part.  But he misses her a lot so when they are together he is not always nice to her (teasing her a lot...for which she has no tolerance).  We can see that their play is changing as she now feels a distinct difference in their age since she is in formal school.  We will have to continue to help him - both of them! all of us! - navigate this change.  One coping mechanism he is using is imaginary friends.  He seems to be talking a lot about his "big brother Shredder" (the bad guy from TMNT) and "all of his little brother robots". Luckily he really loves to play with Oliver and when he gets home before Grace he will often decide whether he wants to play with me or her, and then he is getting a lot of focused attention.  And you know...he's only 3, so he still has his fair share of "where did that come from?" meltdowns...although at school they don't believe me about that because they think he is just the sweetest boy ever. He is very sweet!  But all kids are complex!

Aya is not sleeping through the night even a little bit...being sick has sort of ruined whatever progress we were making in that department.  She is surprisingly mobile now that she can roll both ways, and she is very ticklish which I adore about her.  I really hope she feels better soon - the antibiotics are helping her infections, but are not helping her stomach.

Kristoffer and I are really, really, really tired.  Loving our little kiddos, but having three of them in three totally different stages is a little bit more challenging than we expected.  Hoping we can start fresh next week with no illness, more sleep, and perhaps more patience with each other :)


Thursday, August 21, 2014

August 21, 2014 - Four (Months) and Fabulous

Just like everybody says...it is going TOO FAST!  Aya is four months old today.  Wasn't I just pregnant?! 

For weeks she was brilliant at putting herself to sleep - now Aya has regressed and is giving us a really hard time going down, even when  especially when she is exhausted.  Sometimes she'll sleep for a longer stretch at night like 3 or 4 hours, but she almost always sleeps for either 45 minutes or 2 hours.  At night time, this is truly EXHAUSTING!  It must be her body's normal sleep rhythm though and we will now start working harder to teach her to put herself back to sleep at night without feeding. Because really.  It's just not at all sustainable when her big sister has to be awake by 5:45 am to get to kindergarten on time.  

Aya still nurses like a champ and is equally happy to take a bottle of pumped milk.  For some reason she is fighting (or giving up?) her binky (NOOOO!) but does seem to be taking to the forced attachment of her "lovey bunny" (our chosen comfort item for her - thanks to my Aunt Judy for that one!).  She is smiling and laughing a lot - although almost never on camera, argh - and is especially happy/chatting/giggly around Grace...who will do anything to get a smile or laugh out of little Miss Little Sister.  At 14.5 weeks old she weighed a little over 13 lbs (6 kg) and goes back to the doctor for her next shots and another check up in about 2 or 3 weeks. 

Aya still loves her bath.  She does not love the bouncy seat very much because she just tries to sit up in it and gets frustrated.  She rolls back and forth both ways so we now find her all over the place and not at all in the same position in which we left her.  She sits in the bumbo or her high chair (not feeding yet, mostly for entertainment) more and more.  We have a hard time getting her out of the bumbo because of her chunky little thighs :)  She also really likes her musical mobile in her crib - it calms her down and distracts her if she is upset, but she will never fall asleep to it. She is starting to get into little toys/rattles and seems especially to like music.  She sometimes likes being read to but often fusses...I think I am reading to her at the wrong times and should start doing it when she wakes up instead of before she sleeps.

Aya is a typical 4-month-old in that just when you think you have her figured out, she changes!  Her pictures from today are not stellar because she spent most of the day:  1) in the car, 2) in a Board meeting at Noah's school, 3) in a parent meeting at Grace's school, or 3) in the car.  That was because Oliver has been sick and unable to work for the last 3 days so I've been dragging Aya along with me to all of my commitments.  She's a busy little lady.  And as much as the time is just flying by, we're enjoying many happy moments with our little peanut and are eager to see what the next month has in store for us (read:  please stop waking up at night!).


Friday, August 15, 2014

August 15, 2014 - When You Move Overseas...

A friend in Dar shared someone else's blog about things nobody told you before moved overseas.  I would say that I 100% currently identify or have at some point in the last 6.5 years identified with every single one of these (minus all the parts about missionary work).  I desperately wish I had this list BEFORE I moved to Kenya...I would have been so much better prepared.

Below, I directly pasted the list of "20 Things No One Told You About Moving Overseas" 
from the full blog at this address:

If you even scan this for 2 minutes you will double your understanding of this life!

1. You will love fast food, even if you didn’t before. We rarely ate at McDonald’s in the States, but here, it just tastes like home. I have several friends who never stepped foot in a Starbucks until they moved overseas. Food is familiarity, something we all need once in a while. As bomb diggety as the local food is, we all need a fatty burger and a latte sometimes.
2. No matter how “easy” it is on paper to start a business, get a visa, make a major purchase, or start a “government approved” ministry, government bureaucracy and red tape runs deep. Multiple sources gave us similar timelines for achieving these things, but when we finally got them wrapped up, months after our projections, the response from others was, “wow, that was really fast!”. So, taking twice as long as expected is “really fast”.
3. You will not become a different person. You will not be super person. You will grow and change, but dont expect to climb off the plane and be instantly a new improved you. This is a biggie. I think on short term trips, people are more willing to step out of those comfort zones and stretch themselves, since there is a “now or never” mentality. If you weren’t serving or involved at home, chances are, you won’t serve overseas. If you weren’t an evangelist at home, you will not magically transform once you clear customs. And it’s OK. Missions and ministry takes all forms, the body needs all parts to function. Find your niche, and do YOUR best. However, this is not an excuse for inactivity. Since time is more infinite, and tomorrow is always a possibility, it’s easy to settle for a lower standard. Don’t. Push yourself everyday, stretch yourself everyday.
4. Your local circle of friends will be more like a revolving door. People come, people go, some stay long term, but friendships need to be held with an open hand. God brings people into our lives for seasons, and it’s important to invest in those friendships while you’re in the same place. If you make the effort, they will bridge the miles later.
5. Speaking of friendships, you will get jealous of friends at home! Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and good old email are phenomenal tools to keep in touch, but they are also tools that can cause jealousy, loneliness, and doubt in what you’re doing. While your friends long to be in your pictures of the beach, or surrounded by adorable foreign kiddos, you look at their pictures of birthday parties, holidays, and wide open spaces and feel a pang of “I wish I was there!”. Remember, social media shows the highlight reel of our lives, not the daily grind.
6. It’s very hard to vent or debrief with friends back home. Even your closest friends, family, and allies. People will not understand your complaints, they often see it as a long term missions trip. They see you living in a fairy tale. They don’t see everything on this list! It’s important to find someone, a friend, fellow foreigner, or mentor who will listen to your complaints and frustrations without judging, laughing, or sarcastically saying, “wow, must be hard to live your life!”. Yep, sometimes, believe it or not, it’s hard.
7. Things take longer, and are done at a lower quality standard. The rest of the world moves at a slower pace than us Westerners. Which is usually a good thing. It results in lower stress and better relationships. It also results in repairs and other services taking twice as long. We sit back and wonder, “Why doesn’t this guy just invest in a power tool for cripes sake?!? It’s taking him two hours to chisel that hole that I could do with an air tool in seconds! Arrrgh!”. Those are the times to come down off the ethnocentric pedestal and remind yourself that 1) Power tools are expensive and 2) They have been doing it this way for ages, and while we don’t get it, they are fine with it, and the end result is the same. Usually. Work quality is far below what we’re used to, and while it’s frustrating to take the car in to have the same repair done four times, it happens. Guess what? You’re living in a developing nation. This is not the United States, or even “US Light”. You need to adapt, not them.
8. Things (aka luxuries!) are more expensive. People will tell you how you will live like royalty, how you can live on $20 a month, and life will be just grand. False. While it’s possible to live “locally” and spend a lot less, most foreigners spend about the same here as they did at home. That said, housing is less, local (market) foods are less, and entertainment is less. But, if you’re craving that McDonald’s, or basically any food that comes from somewhere else, you’ll pay about the same, or more. “Extreme” luxuries, such as tools, kitchen appliances, cars, clothing, etc., will usually run about double. And speaking of clothing…
9. It will be hard to find clothes that fit. The majority of the world is much smaller than us tall, husky Westerners, and anything over a size 6 is a bit of a novelty. If you can find “plus size” clothing, for women at least, the styles are usually styled after Miami Beach retirees, if you get my drift. Eventually, all of your clothes will have holes, stains, and will be thread bare due to the harsh environment, lack of stain removal products, and hours of drying in the sun. When friends or missionaries return for a visit, and they look like they’ve been living on the street, it’s not a fashion statement. It’s all they have. “Holey underwear” spans the entire missions community, not just the Mormons if you get my drift. ;)
10. You will get tired of being stared at. Even after being here a few years, we get daily stares when we leave the house. Everyone wants to be your “friend”. Seriously, and at the risk of sounding narcissistic, I can understand on a minor level what celebrities deal with. There are days I just don’t want to leave the house, or run to the store to pick up two items, for fear of the constant attention. It’s amazing how people study your every move, and watch what you put in your cart. Yes, we buy toilet paper and bread too! Isn’t that just crazy?!? and Andrew, our 14 year old, garners a lot of attention, especially from giggly girls, and as of now, is completely oblivious to it. Other missionaries have said that their kids never “got it” until returning to the States, then they wondered why they didn’t get constant, undivided attention.
11. You will never fully grasp the culture, no matter how long you are in one place. Just like you physically stick out, your attitudes, beliefs, and roots are deep. You can adapt, and accept, but there are things you will just never fully understand. And it’s OK, as long as you accept that things are done differently than you might have chosen.
12. Learning the language takes time. I love movies where the foreign character arrives in America, doesn’t speak a word of English, and within two weeks is fully fluent, complete with pop culture references and obscure idioms. There are exceptions, some people are hard wired to pick up languages, but for us normal folk, it takes time. Years. You will make mistakes, and the locals will laugh, but I promise, they will appreciate the effort. Don’t get discouraged, practice as much as you can, ask questions about vocabulary and grammar, and it will come.
13. You will be confronted with realities firsthand that are hard to imagine. Problems that were faraway and didn’t bare themselves in the “clean” western world will smack you in the face. In the last two years, we have narrowly missed three major typhoons, a phenomenon that before only appeared to us on international news. Privacy is not part of the culture in the majority of the world. This leads to personal tragedies being viewed by all, out in the open, exposed and vulnerable. Grisly car and motorcycle accidents are not covered up or cordoned off. Prostitutes walk the streets openly at night, and dirty, begging children aggressively approach cars at busy intersections. Disease and disfigurement are not covered up. I hate to say “you’ll get used to it”, because that just seems to minimize it, but you will adjust to the shock over time. It doesn’t make it less tragic, but it’s necessary to find a way to cope.
14. People back home may expect it, but you will not save the world. But, for a few, you can change their world. This falls under the “super human” category. Supporters will send $50, and say, “Here, now you can buy seeds, and start a completely sustainable farm for a village, for life! In one weekend!” Oh, how I wish it was so easy! Projects take time, relationship building, training, and yes, financing. Even the smallest project costs more than expected, and takes time. If you have enough confidence in the person to help fund them, you must have confidence in their ability to be good stewards of what they’re given, and make good, prayerful decisions.
15. You will eventually surrender in the war against the insects. All the bug spray, organic mixes, bug traps, and secret formulas that Grandma swore by will not completely eliminate bugs in the majority of the world. Do what you can, seal you food as tight as you can, check your holey clothes before putting them on, and move on. Extra protein, right?
16. When you return home for visits, high on all your experiences and full of stories, just know that not everyone will be as enthusiastic as you are. And that’s OK. We all have interests, and travel is not for everyone. Just spend time with those you love, be yourself, and when stories come up, great! Remember that people at home will have stories too, life didn’t stop for them once you climbed on the plane. Don’t come home expecting all eyes and attention will be on you, remember that only happens when you’re overseas ;)
17. You will lose your temper, and have “ugly” un-Christian moments. We all do. As a missionary, or even an ex-pat, yes, we are supposed to constantly walk around with a smile and a Bible in hand, without a care in the world. Not true. We all have bad days. Just like everyone else in the world. We’re supposed to be “representatives” for our country, and the Kingdom of God, but we snap, we say things, and openly express our frustration. This applies to sales clerks, government officials, the street kids that relentlessly panhandle after firmly being told no, and our own families. Fortunately, most people are forgiving, as is our God. Apologize quickly, forgive quickly, and move forward with a smile. Then go home, scream into your pillow, and call your venting buddy.
But it’s not all bad news!
18. You will find strengths you never knew you had, or develop strengths you didn’t have before! All these “refining” experiences will grow you, if you let them. Your patience, endurance, creativity, and faith will grow in ways you never thought possible. If you want to be successful, all these attributes are necessary for survival.
19. You will find sentimental connections with your adopted culture, and will really miss things if/when you return to your homeland. While you’ll never fully adopt the culture of your host country, you will build deep connections with parts of it, and the people that are a part of it.
20. You will meet people on every economic level and background, and soon learn how alike we all are. Instead of going to “help”, you learn you have come to “partner”. You will learn that other lifestyles are just as fulfilling and legitimate as the “American Dream” we are all brainwashed into thinking is the pinnacle of success.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

August 14, 2014 - Bike Riding!

Grace has learned to ride her bike without training wheels.  I think she did it by herself for the first time on 1st of August, but she didn't KNOW that she was doing it by herself until August 3rd.  She is so very proud, and as parents we realize how amazing it is when your kids master a new skill that they have been practicing.  Before she couldn't ride by herself, and now she can!  We have to work on getting on/off alone and braking, but still...she can ride!  Here she goes...

Great job, Gracie!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

August 13, 2014 - On my birthday...

The news in the world is really depressing these days.  Police killing people in America.  Russia vs. Ukraine.  Israel vs. Palestine.  Airplane crashes.  Ebola.  Suicide. If you really stop to consider the true, enormous weight of these situations and events, you would never get out of bed.  Or at least I wouldn't.    But today is my birthday - and so for one day I would like to be completely ignorant and neglectful of the reality of the larger world, and just focus on the joys of my own immediate little world.  I know that is not particularly socially responsible on a grand scale, but for one day I'm letting myself off the hook.

Turning 34 on a Wednesday doesn't seem like anything so special, but when surrounded by these four...well, it just feels down right lovely.  Thank you to my dear ones for helping me enjoy this life, ups and downs and all, and helping me age so well (I hope).  

From me with lots of love...

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

August 12, 2014 - Empathy

This past Wednesday, Grace got injured on our trampoline.  She was jumping and came down on her ankle, twisting it in a weird way and maybe tearing some ligaments.  Basically, she sprained it.  While so thankful that it wasn't broken, we felt really bad for her because it was painful (swollen and bruised - luckily not too badly) and because the next day was Kindergarten orientation. She was a wee bit dramatic about it (my sister asked me when I told her this, "Where on earth do you think she got that from?") but by the next morning she had adapted to having her ankle wrapped, hopping or crawling around as needed.  For orientation, the plan was that Kristoffer would carry her all around for the tour of the very large campus (which he did).

I tell this story because when we were driving to the school on Thursday morning for orientation, something intereting happened.  We were sitting in some traffic and a man came along the road asking for money at all of the driver windows - he had only one leg and only one arm.  Normally we don't give money - that's another discussion right there if you want to have it - and I didn't have any on me anyway so sort of waved to him with a shrug saying "Pole, not today."  Grace watched the interaction and then said: "Mama do you know what? I feel really bad for that man because he doesn't have a leg and I know how it feels if you can only walk on one leg."  

And just like, she understands the concept of empathy. It was a small moment, but a "big" one as well.  And we were very happy that she could walk this weekend and didn't have to wear her ankle wrapped to school for the first time yesterday.  She still has a small limp, but otherwise bounced back very quickly.  I love that she is at an age to start understanding bigger concepts about human emotion and relationships.  It's fascinating and inspiring, equally.