Wednesday, June 29, 2011

June 29, 2011 - Sitting Up

And so the milestones keep coming. Yesterday Noah started sitting up for a few minutes at a time by himself without falling over. Today he could do it for even longer. Grace used to fall backwards when she was starting to sit up, but Noah seems to be more of a side- or forward-faller. He doesn't seem to be that excited about his new skill, but Grace is very happy about it :)

Early morning playtime with Grace...sitting up like a big boy all by himself!


Thursday, June 23, 2011

June 23, 2011 - Gadget Guy

When Grace was a baby, we didn't ever have an exer-saucer/bouncer type thing. First of all, we didn't see any here and, second of all, we never felt like she needed it. I don't remember wanting one, and she loved the baby swing we have so that was great. But Noah doesn't like the baby swing and since using the exer-saucer at my parents' house, I have really wanted one for him! He loves to be in the standing position. So our friend who works for USAID was nice enough to let us use her DPO address (domestic postal order - it's just like mailing within the US) and we bought Noah an exer-saucer, which arrived yesterday ($50 and free shipping on the $200 I saw an expat selling one for 2 weeks ago here!).

I think it will take a little bit for him to get used to it, and he'll enjoy it more and more as he can figure more stuff out, but I am soooo psyched for Noah to have this. For now he is happy to teethe on all the toys! Enjoy, little boy!


Wednesday, June 22, 2011

June 22, 2011 - High Five

I tried to take Noah's 5-month picture with him sitting up, but he kept trying to eat the sign and then he would cry when it fell down. So it turned out like this:

We had to go for a laying down shot, like when Grace was 5 months old too!, in order to get a good picture of him:

At five months old, Noah tries to sit up by himself and likes to be standing as well. He has been eating rice cereal for a few days now, each day doing a little bit better, and he is sleeping longer stretches at night finally (a couple of times up to 8 1/2 hours!). He has a cold so isn't feeling 100%, but manages to smile a lot anyway. This morning he tried to use a sippy cup for the first time, but instead of drinking the water I think he was just teething on the spout.

He must weigh somewhere around 18 or 19 lbs and seems quite tall to me. He is wearing 9-12 month size clothes almost exclusively. He continues to love things that make noise and thinks everything his sister does is pretty wonderful.

Coincidentally, I picked up Noah's American Passport and Consular Report of Birth Abroad (CRBA) today; the CRBA is proof that even though he was born abroad he was an American at birth. It will be a very important document come the day he decides to launch his campaign for President. If Americans think Obama is a questionable case, wait until they meet this Kenyan-born Danish-American!

Happy 5 months, buddy! We love you!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

June 21, 2011 - Business Plan

Kristoffer and I (ok, mostly Kristoffer) have decided to become venture capitalists in Kenya. Well, I suppose "venture capitalists" is a bit of stretch, but we are investing money to help Charles and his nephew start a business. The story is this:

In his work with WFP, Kristoffer has been involved with the stove market in Kenya. Kenyans traditionally cook on three-stone open fires (as in, they put a big pot on top of three stones with wood burning beneath it); this is very inefficient and requires a lot of firewood, which significantly contributes to deforestation in Kenya. Additionally, the smoke from cooking this way is bad for the health of the women who use them to cook. Called a "jiko" in Swahili, the wood-burning stoves that Kristoffer helps provides to schools are designed to be healthier and way more efficient. In addition to the institutional-size stoves that WFP purchases for schools, there are also similar household-size stoves for individuals and families to use. These stoves are really impressive, but many Kenyans would find them to be expensive and also not available everywhere. Kristoffer works with one stove supplier in particular and discovered that they do not have distributors in the part of Kenya where Charles lives. To continue our efforts to provide sustainable help to Charles and his family, we have given him a certain amount of money to buy stoves to distribute where his family lives.

Charles, already a fan of these stoves because we have given his family a couple of them, was very eager when Kristoffer approached him with this idea. Charles has had several meetings with the stove supplier and had to sign a legal contract to become a distributor for them. His company, which will eventually be licensed with the government, is called Ukambani Stove Distribution Ltd. Kristoffer and I made a spreadsheet for Charles (because we gave him an old laptop and a book to learn how to use Excel) to keep track of the stoves and the money. We aren't looking to profit from this, just to get back our initial investment. Charles and his nephew, Steve, will sell the stoves to Charles' neighbors in Nairobi and all around his home town, Machakos, for a decent profit equivalent to several dollars. That money will be used to slowly pay back our investment, to pay Steve a salary, to buy more stoves, and hopefully to save.

Given the interest in these stoves and the fact that Charles will be the sole distributor in a very populated area, we think he can make quite a bit of money from this venture, which we hope he will use wisely to continue the business and also to save for his family's future. We know he has a dream to own a car, which is the ultimate symbol of wealth here, so perhaps he could start saving for that. He picked up his first order of stoves one week ago and has sold three of them so far. Additionally, he gave a demonstration at his church this weekend and got seven orders. One of the stoves sold so far is a fancier, more expensive version; Steve sold it to a woman for a little bit less than he wanted to, but I assured Charles that was a good investment if she tells everyone she knows about these honest, hardworking guys who are selling long-lasting, energy-efficient stoves.

Kristoffer provided all the contacts for Charles and all the knowledge about the stoves (selling points for Charles and Steve to know, etc.), and I keep injecting tidbits of advice, like "Once you have the minimum requirement, open a bank account so you don't spend all your profit or get robbed!" It actually turns out that Charles has a little bit of sales experience from when he was younger and is also teaching Steve how to be a salesman. When Charles doesn't need to be driving us anywhere, usually in the afternoon when the kids are napping, he is allowed to drive to the stove supplier for meetings or to pick up stoves. So far it is going well and he is THRILLED. To say the least. We think it is fun to teach him a little bit about business and economics, and Kristoffer is eager to see how quickly the stove is embraced in Charles' community.

By the time we leave Kenya, whenever that may be, we will have funded an education for Charles' wife to become an employed school teacher; have bought his family goats, thanks to my parents, that can be bred and used for milk, meat or to sell; have provided his family with an enormous water tank to harvest water so his mother doesn't have walk up and down hills for miles to fetch it; have provided his family with solar panels so they can have some electricity in their home; and we will have helped Charles start a successful (we hope) business that he can continue long after we leave. It is all about building capacity and providing sustainable development solutions, and I feel proud that we've done our best to help improve the quality of life for one Kenyan family.

We have learned in our time here that the best way to help people in the long run - and I believe this applies everywhere, actually - is to give them tools to help themselves. Our experience has shown us that, while that theory sounds quite simple, figuring out how to actually provide that kind of help is extremely complicated in practice.

We'll keep you posted ;)

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Saturday, June 18, 2011

June 18, 2011 - Chow Time

Four days shy of being five months old, we decided to let Noah try eating rice cereal. I liked the idea of doing it while Kristoffer was home and Grace was napping, and he's been sitting at the table with us all week watching us eat so I thought he seemed eager. I wasn't exactly wrong, but I would say he was somewhat disinterested and only actually swallowed the equivalent of a few spoonfuls. But that's ok! We'll just keep trying a little bit every day and see how he develops as an eater. He was quiet and happy during the event, which went a little something like this:

In other news, he is doing great on our sleep training program. After just three days, he stopped crying when we put him down awake in his crib for both naps and bedtime. He still babbles and complains for a few minutes, but ultimately puts himself to sleep. Last night he slept for 3 hours, woke up and was unhappy in his crib for an hour, then slept another 3 hours. I changed a messy diaper and fed him at 1:30, and then he slept until 5 am. I fed him again and he slept until 8 am! It was his first night sleeping in his own room since he was born and it went great. I think with just a few more nights he might actually sleep all the way through, or at least until around 5 am. Wouldn't that be brilliant?

Well done, little boy!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

June 15, 2011 - Training

A new phase of training has begun in our house.

First, we have been pretty relaxed and not very serious about potty training Grace, but new efforts are underway to step up our game. Someone is coming to Kenya from the US next week and will be bringing a new stash of potty training supplies (Dora potty set, Dora potty training sticker chart, beanie baby Dora, etc.). Grace can and will go pee-pee on the potty if you ask her to, but she shows no initiative to do it on her own. We'll see what happens when Dora enters the picture.

Next, we're getting Noah ready to start eating cereal next week when he is 5 months old. Usually when we eat dinner he sits in his bouncy seat or his bumbo seat on the table, but last night we put him in his high chair for the first time (Farmor and Hans: we actually put him in Grace's chair because Grace likes his these days!). He was so happy to be sitting at the table with us! Grace kept saying, "Good job, buddy! You're big like me!"

And then comes sleep training. After several nights of getting less than 4 hours of sleep because Noah was just constantly waking up, I decided that we were ready for sleep training. Last night we started the same process we did with Grace (except she was one month older): a bedtime routine that includes not letting him fall asleep nursing! After his bath, nursing, burping, play time, and a story, we put Noah down in his crib awake. After checking my notes I remembered that the first night we did this with Grace it took 25 minutes of her crying and us going in every few minutes to soothe her, but not picking her up, before she fell asleep. Noah is a different person, and it took 1 hr and 8 minutes of that before he fell asleep. Yikes! He slept for 45 minutes and then woke up with a hungry cry so I did feed him (to sleep, sigh) but then didn't feed him again for 6 more hours, which is a really good stretch. He woke up a few times but I would put him on his side and rub his back a little and he would go back to sleep (until 2:30). I figure it was just the first night and should only get easier, with our obvious goal of Noah putting himself to sleep and staying asleep all night. To help matters even more, we hope, this weekend we will move him out of our room and into his own room. Again, one month earlier than we did it with Grace, but I really think we're all ready for it.

What cracks me up the most is that this morning I put Noah on his play gym for a few minutes and when I came out of the bathroom he had rolled onto his stomach and was sound asleep (see below). Seriously! He put himself to sleep completely with no crying in just a few minutes. Why didn't he do that last night?!

Some other growing pains to share: there is a little bit of a bully in Grace's class this term. His name is Emmanuel and I actually think he really likes Grace, but he is extremely aggressive. Yesterday before they were coming out for pick up, Emmanuel pushed Grace so hard that she fell to the floor. It really rocked her world :( She came out with a quivering lip and talked about the incident the rest of the day. I heard, "Emmanuel pushed me down to the ground. Ms. Mbata said, 'No, no Emmanuel. Don't hit Grace.' I fell down, Mama!," over and over and over again. This morning she was really reluctant to go to school. When we got there Emmanuel tried to take her shoes, her backpack, and tried to drive into her with a car! He must have a crush on her?! Luckily Ms. Mbata handled him very well and even though Grace said she didn't want to stay, she was quickly sucked into reading a story with the teacher. I'm hoping she has a good day today because I don't want her to be scared to go to school! And, I'm hoping that Emmanuel's parents at home are reinforcing nice ways to play, because in front of me, yesterday, when Ms. Mbata told his mother what happened she said, "Ok." It was not quite the reaction the teacher or I expected! I know I can't keep her protected forever, but I was hoping not to deal with bullies for a few more years!


p.s. We hope Farmor had a great birthday yesterday, and we wish Farmor and Hans a very happy 20th wedding anniversary!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

June 14, 2011 - Before...

Before there was Noah....
And before there was Grace...
And before there was Kenya...
And even before there was Mr. and Mrs. Welsien...
There was a small town boy, asking a big city girl to be his wife...

5 years ago!


Monday, June 13, 2011

Sunday, June 12, 2011

June 12, 2011 - Dance Party

We like to have a good dance party once or twice a week after dinner and a few weeks ago I got footage of Grace as a crazy dancer. It was hysterical and I really wanted to share it, but the disc got damaged and I can't transfer to the footage to our computer as a result. So the other night I decided to tape a bit more of our dance party fun. Grace isn't quite as funny as she was the first time, but Noah is more involved this time and the two of them are super cute together. I think someday they will be thick as thieves!


Saturday, June 11, 2011

June 11, 2011 - Twenty

Today Noah is 20 weeks old (half of a pregnancy)! We were saying last night at dinner that it is really hard to believe he is only 20 weeks old because we can hardly remember life without him. Here is a review of all of his "twenties" so far...

20 weeks in utero

20 minutes old
(yes, I already posted this video when he was 6 weeks old)

20 days old
(poor little buddy was sick in the hospital)

Yesterday, one day shy of 20 weeks old!

Thanks, buddy, for 20 weeks of sweet, sweet you!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

June 9, 2011 - My First Christmas

No, it's not Christmas and, no, Noah is not 9 months old. But he is too big to fit into any of his jammies that are smaller than 9 months size and this is one of the only gender-neutral 9 month size jammies we have. Grace wore it starting at 9 months and for her actual first Christmas when she was 10 months old (she wore it well past her first birthday, actually), and Noah has been wearing it since he turned 4 months old.

Can you tell which baby is Noah and which baby is Grace?!


Wednesday, June 8, 2011

June 8, 2011 - First Friend

The first baby friend that Noah made (in the womb, actually) is Emma; her mother Miriam and I met became friends when Grace and Emma's sister Hayley were babies. I was very happy to have a pregnant friend in Nairobi! Emma is 11 days older than Noah. Two of the last three times they've seen each other, he has tried to grab her by her clothes and hold on to her for dear life. He must know a good catch when he finds one, and I guess he has a thing for older women.

Emma & Noah
(approximately 1 month old)

Noah & Emma
(approximately 4 1/2 months old)

Monday, June 6, 2011

June 6, 2011 - Staff Update

As you know, a big part of our life here is interacting with our staff, and right now we have three Kenyans who work for us:
  • Charles - he has been our driver for 2 1/2 years
  • Rose - she is our housekeeper/nanny since October
  • Syprose - she cooks for us once a week since Novemberish
In some ways it is very luxurious to have staff. For example, when we run out of drinking water I can send Charles to the store to stock up on bottles instead of doing it myself or to pay any number of the bills that we have to pay in person. When Grace and Noah are both napping at the same time (rare, but amazing) I can also nap if I am tired because I don't have to worry about doing the laundry or the dishes (note: no dishwashers or clothes dryers in Nairobi). I can choose if I want to make some side dishes to go along with the meals Syprose has made (she cooks 5 or 6 meals on the day she comes and then we freeze to eat throughout the week) or not (because they can pretty much stand alone). It is one of the perks of living so far away from home and the totally different conveniences we are used to there (because in all truth, the conveniences of home don't exist here and the conveniences of here don't exist at home).

But it is also more difficult than one might think to have people working for you in your home. Today, for example, I feel like a human ATM machine because Syprose's mother died and she is asking for us to help pay for the funeral; Charles' mother and his son both got serious injuries last week and need to go the hospital today, which we are expected to pay for, and he needs money for some additional expenses his wife has at her school (we are sponsoring her education); and Rose is complaining that times are tough, money is tight, and could I please find her a part-time job on the weekends to supplement her income (read between the lines: or could I just start paying her more) and also could we also please donate to help her church buy a plot of land. Yikes. Sometimes it feels like I am eating peanut butter and jelly for lunch because we are supporting three other families! I know I've written about this before and I am not complaining, but from time to time I do need to review our relationship to these people.

Syprose - she is a very part-time employee and has several other employers, who I am sure she is hitting up equally to support her mother's arrangements. We will give her something, but cannot afford and do not feel obligated to support the whole thing. We know how much money she makes and she does pretty well. She also has many siblings who can ask their employers for cash as well.

Charles - of course we will pay for his family's medical expenses. We know he is on a tighter than usual budget because he is also contributing to his wife's education (which we take out of his salary every month) and, in our experience, Kenyans never have money set aside for emergencies. For his wife's extra school costs? We'll give him a loan and continue to deduct from his monthly salary. As an aside, Charles' mother got injured while grazing the goats my parents bought her and he made sure to lay that on pretty thick this morning ("Well, if she hadn't been tending the goats..."). So, Mom and Dad, maybe you want to help pay for her to see a doctor? (kidding, kidding)

Rose - oh Rose. Rose, who redeemed my faith in the whole idea of having house help, who fits seamlessly into our family, knowing when to be around and when not to be around, often knowing how to snap Grace out of a grumpy mood or get her to fall asleep for her nap, and who makes flowers appear on my coffee table as if by magic. She is nice company to have around the house during the day, is very interested in learning lots of different things, and will not be moving to Canada any time soon (never, actually) because her visa was denied (for a completely ridiculous reason, but really we expected it because the Canadian government really doesn't want her to move there and marry a nice Canadian man). I feel that we pay her a lot already, compared to many people who I know don't pay their staff as well, but I also feel like she is worth every single shilling because she is so good at both housekeeping and helping with the children. I actually do not know how I would function in Nairobi without her and I certainly don't want her to go hunting for another family who will pay her more than we do. So Kristoffer and I have to decide how much more we can afford to pay her.

In addition to the financial issues of having staff, there are social ones too. For some reason two weeks ago Charles was in a very bad mood (I actually think he was mad at Kristoffer because he had to work late when Kristoffer got stuck in a meeting with a famous American actress; Kristoffer did not offer to pay him overtime because he had just had 6 weeks of paid vacation.) and stopped talking to Rose for 2 days. He didn't even say hello to her when she said hello. So then Rose asks me, what's wrong with Charles? I inquire and he says everything is fine, but still won't talk to Rose. Kristoffer thought he had a bit of an attitude with him as well. Two days later he was perfectly fine and Rose asks him what happened, to which he replies, "Nothing. I was just in a bad mood and didn't want to talk." Luckily Rose is a pretty assertive Kenyan woman and told him, "That's fine, but next time tell me instead of not saying hello when I say good morning to you." You go, Rose!

We are lucky that Rose and Charles, and Syprose who worked with Rose and her previous family, all get along and that we haven't had any major issues with their personalities. Rose is Masai and pretty much everyone gets along with Masai. Charles and Syprose do not come from the same part of the country and are actually quite different (at least in terms of the stereotypes about their respective tribes) but they only interact one day a week and I've never heard them be anything but very polite to one another. Of course I'm not with them in the car when he takes her food shopping, but Syprose is so loud that if she had an issue with him I'm sure I would know about it already.

So...that's the update on our staff. If we move from Kenya before the year is over, as we expect, then a new item on my "to do" list will be "to get new jobs for the staff". I don't think it will be that hard because there are always new people coming in to the country and, while staff are not hard to find, GOOD staff are! But then the question becomes: what will happen to us if we move to a country (like America, gulp, or Denmark, shock!) where we have to do our own laundry and drive our own car and cook our own dinner while the babies are napping?!?! While it was hard to get used to life with staff, I am so not ready to deal with the reality of life without them!


Thursday, June 2, 2011

June 2, 2011 - Play Date

I haven't been blogging too much lately. Kristoffer has had a lot going on with work - very blog-worthy material, I might add - but the story has to stay under wraps for the time being. He was traveling last week so I was busy trying to sleep when the kids were sleeping: for Grace this is pretty straightforward (from approximately 1pm to 3pm and 7:30pm to 6am) but for Noah it is a little bit of anyone's guess. This is a boy who rarely cries (unless you're picking his nose - he really hates that!) and gives out smiles for free, but who still sleeps better during the day and wakes up frequently at night (not even to eat! just to be awake!). We are working up the courage to both sleep train him and start him on rice cereal, but we are torn because we still feel he is a few weeks too young for these things. If our other strategies continue to fail, though, you'll be reading about those events sooner than later.

Grace is changing everyday. Her vocabulary is just exploding in both languages and she continues to sing, sing, sing all the time (for example, I am now writing this blog to a medley of Row Row Row Your Boat, The Itsy Bitsy Spider, Happy Birthday, Humpty Dumpty, Patacake, Where is Thumbkin, the Dora song and Good Life by OneRepublic). She has added dancing to her list of skills and if I ever figure out what happened to screw up our current camcorder disc, I will transfer and share her instructional dance video. When she sees Noah in the morning or after school she exclaims, "Hi buddy! Are you okay buddy?!" She still really enjoys school and seems to be getting a little bit away from "parallel play" and into actually playing with other children, as we saw yesterday during a play date with her older friend Silas (1 yr 3 months older than Grace). It was a Kenyan holiday so Kristoffer was home and we had a great time with Silas, his brother Julius (3 weeks older than Noah) and their parents, Casper and Malene. Grace shared well, took turns, didn't cry when Silas played with her toys, talked to and played with him a lot. I think it was her best play date ever!

Noah is heavier, Silas is longer
Building tracks and playing trains
Noah is such a cutie. He laughs aloud now, particularly when tickled, and is fascinated by all things musical. The other day he started to express sadness if he drops a toy (big pout followed by whimper or slight cry). Grace has taken to "reading" her books to him and he seems enchanted by her most of the time. He wants to be in a sitting or standing position a lot of the time, so Kristoffer started to train him to cruise, as you can see below. He likes to grab stuff and has started to teethe - everything goes into his mouth for a chomp!
Nothing too new and exciting going on in our house, but we have many little reasons to be happy with these little people of ours!