Getting My Life in Order: Part 2, Organizing Emails

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First off, if you missed part one of this series, start here.

Let’s talk emails. 

I am big on communicating via email and I also can’t stand to let emails go unanswered. But answering emails every time you receive one is one of the most inefficient ways to manage your time…at least that’s what everyone swears by! But I also use to work in an office where not being tied to your email wasn’t much of an option.

So here’s my strategy:

I check emails on my phone or computer whenever I think about. So basically I make my rounds through social and then end on my emails. If it’s an email that requires an answer and I know the answer, I respond right away with a short reply. If I need to find out more information I simply let the person know I’ll respond later with more information, but I want them to know I received the email and am working on it.

While there are some people who are not into the answering email thing, I believe it’s important for those in any kind of business. You are trying to establish customer service and genuine connections with people, and one way to do this is by promptly answering their email. I also hold a fast email responder in high regard! Seriously, if I’m ever in charge of hiring an office manager I will ask them how fast they respond to email. Also, I’m a receiver for multiple contact pages for websites and I want my potential clients/donors to know we value and care for them and are on top of their request—even if we don’t have the answer just yet.

That said, it’s also important to set boundaries. If you are working from home or have office hours just put an autoreply on your emails so that if someone emails you outside of those hours they know why. This is especially important because I’m working with a 9 hour time difference for Central Time. This allows me to not feel pressured to answer every email all day long. Again, I’m only checking emails periodically during the day.

 

Okay, so that’s daily replies. If it’s an email that does not require a reply I have a few actions I take:

1.     Flag, so I know to look at it later as soon as I can

2.     Delete it, because I either skimmed it or am not interested

3.     Don’t flag it but leave it in my inbox to read later (this is usually for newsletters or websites I send myself to check out)

As for email organization I have A TON of folders where I then move emails from inbox. For example, purchases with tracking info, important bills, useful newsletters from friends or companies, etc.

 

Then once a week (or sometimes longer) I do a full clean-out. I will get 20 plus emails in my inbox and I take a couple hours to sit down and slowly go through everyone:

1.     Read all the flag emails and either delete or file

2.     Read all the newsletter emails and then delete or file

3.     Answer any unanswered emails and then delete or file

 

Don’t stop until the inbox is done! I usually still have a few emails left in my inbox because they may contain events happening soon or I’m still waiting on some information. But that’s how I stay on top of email, making sure to answer people promptly and keep everything organized.

1.     Check and answer important emails a few times a day

2.     Use flags to mark important emails

3.     File emails that don’t need to be deleted but don’t need to be in your inbox eithe

Alright, in the next post we will talk about taking time to rest. This is the one I'm most passionate about and what I truly believe makes or breaks you in doing anything long-term (or just keeping your sanity).

Getting My Life in Order: Part 1

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I wanted to do a follow-up blog about my day in the life with a one year old. But in this post I want to talk more in depth with how I organize my days. I’ve always been a fan of organization, I mean, I use to play office in lieu of the ever popular "house" as a kid. But over the years I’ve had to adapt to not just an organized way for life, but also an efficient way of life.

I’m a big fan of worker smarter,
not harder.

So here are a few of my tools and tricks that help me work full-time from home for a non-profit, take care of a one year old, and run a side-hustle business, all while navigating the waters of living overseas in Africa.

First off, you have to be dedicated.

These things won’t work unless you actually have the desire to get stuff done. And let’s be honest, most days I don’t! And for those really low days where I have absolutely no energy and no motivation...I just rest. Yep, sometimes that’s allowed. Because, when I am working, I work smart.

So what are my ways for working smart?

I'm going to try and break it down into a few steps. Then I'll expand on some of these things in separate blog posts. Today, I just want to give you an overview so you can get the basics of what I do for my life. 

1.     Organize your day on paper

Be specific! Write out each task that needs to happen and try to write at what time it will happen. Refer back to it everyday. 

2.     Dedicate specific times to work on emails

Be willing to reply back to those who need it, even if it’s only to say I got your email and I’m on it! (Read tomorrow's post for how I organize my email life and why I think it's important to answer quickly)

3.     Take time to rest.

Seems counter-intuitive right? But if you take a little time for yourself each day then you will actually be more productive during the time you do work. (Part three of this series will go in-depth on how I find time to rest daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly) 

4.     Limit social media during work times.

I actually only post to Instagram when I’m in bed for the night and everything else is done.  That’s when I take the time to comment, interact, and post, not just for my personal page, but for my business pages as well. I manage 4 Facebook pages and 2 Instagram accounts, so I schedule everything in advance, but in order to grow anything online you have to interact!

Since I was already using social media at night anyways, I just decided to be intentional about also interacting on the business accounts. (Part 4 of the series will go in depth on how I manage all the social media accounts, as well as my night-time routine for getting things done -- see next point)

sidenote: I also get on social media if I ever find myself in a lull at home or while I'm out waiting in a forever long line. But I don’t do social media why I’m trying to get things done; it never works out!

5.     Take advantage of the times of day that you are most active.

For me, I’m my best at night. Mornings are my enemy and it takes me forever to get going. But at night I get a second wind and it’s all I can do to stop working and go to sleep. For some people it may be that mornings are their best time, so wake up a couple hours before your kids or before you have to go work and use that time to get emails answered or books read or whatever it is. (Part 4 will cover how I use my nights to get the final things crossed of my to-do list and how I use that time for cracking down on my goals like social media, reading more, and listening to podcasts)

6.     Block out Distractions

We are focusing on working smarter, this means we have to limit all distractions. For me I know if I'm working in the same room with someone I will tend to just talk. So if I am in the same room with my husband working I usually put my headphones on and have an upbeat playlist going. This helps me block out the distraction to talk and it allows me to focus on the task at hand. Other times I’m simply working to beat of the clock, which is really my best motivater of all…

7. Use your tribe/village/community/whoever

Who are your people? Do you have any people? There have many many times in my life where I felt I didn't have people, but this season I have a whole team working behind me, many who don't even realize the importance they play in helping me accomplish all the things. And it's really the number one reason why I can do all of this. There have been seasons in my life where I didn't have a tribe and I didn't have the energy, so my workload was less and I just made up my mind to be okay with that. Remember you may not be accomplishing everything because you are in a season of something else! 

Last year after having Ezra I could only manage taking care of newborn, pumping exclusively, getting the bare minimum of my duties done for the non-profit, and figuring out how to live life overseas. That was it. No more. But it didn't last forever. Eventually I found my rhythm, I was no longer pumping, and I had people who came around me to help babysit and offer support. So lean into whatever season you are in and don't beat yourself up if you just can't get it all done. Maybe it's because you are actually getting the most important thing done—like taking care of yourself or your family! 

So what does my tribe do for me?
(Also, I'd do any of things for them in a heartbeat...let me make it clear it's not a one way street!!)

Well, These people are essential to me getting things done. I could not get everything done if it wasn’t for my house helper. I love that having a house helper here is normal and not just a luxury of the upper class. Our house helper is a friend who cleans, cooks, and watches Ezra during the mornings and three nights a week while Reed is at language class and I’m at practices.

I also could not do what I do without the most helpful husband. He changes diapers, cooks meals, gives baths, and basically anything I do he does just as much. We don’t see our jobs as defined by mommy or daddy. (Except when it comes to boogers…) But one person gets the bottle ready and the other helps with bath time. One day he cooks dinner, and another day it’s my turn. We alternate and lean on each other. We both work from home and so we have the luxury to be flexible in our schedules. It also means we have the luxury to pick up the slack when needed. I know that this is a unique aspect to our relationship, but I encourage stay at home mammas to find someone who can help you. Maybe it’s a nanny or a grandma or another mamma or a younger single bestie. It’s about finding your tribe and helping each other when times get tough. I also have a handful of people I know I could call here in Africa and would jump at any chance to help us out.

 

So I want to hear from you?

Is there a tool or trick that really helps you get things done or is there a question you have for me after reading this? Comment below and let's learn from each other! 

IRL: Dinner and a Baby

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Clean dishes. Hear baby cry. Look down. Baby has salt shaker from trash and now salt is all over the floor. Grab rag, clean, clean bottom of baby’s feet, baby grabs my hair and pulls on for his life. Scream. Finish cleaning salt, realize baby still has salt shaker and shaking it furiously. Groan. Give up. Start Bath. Get pitcher from bathroom. Walk in bedroom. Why does it smell like poop in here? Who pooped? We haven’t even been home today? I don’t understand. Grab pitcher. Go to water tower. Fill pitcher with filtered water for baby’s bath. Realize we are almost out of water and the rest will be used on bath water. Great.

Put small amount of water in kettle and wait. Baby sneaks up behind me. Step on baby. Baby falls. Baby cries. Mom feels bad. Pick up baby. Kiss baby. Soothe baby. Baby cries. Hug baby. Tell baby I’m sorry. Baby cries. Hold baby and finish bath water. Poor hot water into cold water for lukewarm bath water. Baby cries. Realize there are weird white flakes floating in bath water. Why?! Pour bathwater into another pitcher. Flakes still follow. Put baby down, baby cries. Get out strainer and strain bath water because it’s all the filtered water we have left in the house.

Baby stops crying. Yes. Baby grabs household cleaner and starts running. Grab baby. Take away cleaner. Baby cries. Ugh. Pick up baby.

Grab bottle of milk so it’s ready after bath. Realize all the milk in our country gives people the poops. Grab Formula. Scoop with left hand four scoops of powder into a small tiny hole of a bottle. Spill formula. Groan. Go to water tower to fill up with water. Remember I just used the last of the water for the bath. Groan.

Smile, because I also remembered that I saw two water bottles in the hallway. Frown, because said water bottle is empty, and the other water bottle was taken by husband to class. Smile again, because I still have some water in my thermos from today’s trip. Open with one hand and fill bottle.

Put bottle on changing table in bedroom. Realize I forgot to turn on the a/c during dinner. Go get remote. Where is remote? Wait, I saw baby with remote this morning. Then I saw daddy take remote from him. Where is remote? Look in drawers. Nope. Look in bedroom. Nope. Hmm, why is the office open? Look in office, on the bookshelf. Logical place…grab remote, turn on a/c, note time so in 2 hours I can turn off a/c.

Go to bathroom in bedroom. Ugh. It still smells like poop. Why? What the? Hold breath, put baby down. Baby grabs shaving cream…every.single.time. Clean baby. Forget towel. Grab towel. Get baby. Carry baby into bedroom.

Dry baby. Lotion baby. Brush baby’s teeth. Clothe baby. Brush baby’s hair. Wait. What is this? Why are there orange flecks in his hair? Where did it even come from? Pick out flecks. Kiss baby. Fill up diffuser. Turn on fan. Turn on sound machine. Place baby in crib with blanket and paci. Say good night. Walk out. No crying, yes!

Go to kitchen. Remember the salt incident. Moan. Grab broom. Sweep. Smell Chili. Yumm. Grab a spoon to taste. Realize the new chili powder has way more spice to it than the last one I bought. Spit out chili. Acknowledge chili is ruined and try not to cry. Grab a diet coke and google how to make chili less spicy.

UPDATE: Not but 30 minutes after writing this did I get a call from my husband. After learning of the chili dilemma he offered to go up the street to get us Kebabs. He called because our car died. Nothing, zilch. And he was parked on the street. Luckily, we have a spare car from our teammates parked in our driveway. But, Ezra is asleep and even if I woke him there would be no where for him to sit safely in the car. I would normally call our bosses and/or teammates, but they are all out of town. I would then call a friend to run over, but they don't have cars. So here we sit on the photo, figuring out how to get my husband home, and how to get our spare car back to the store so we can jump the car and bring it home...oh how life is never boring around here!

Swimming With Whale Sharks

Go! Go! Go! The man yells in a thick accent; it actually takes me a second to understand what he said. Then I quickly pull my mask over my eyes, put a death grip on my phone, and jump into the deep ocean blue. Immediately I begin clicking the shutter on my phone, hoping to catch the giant creatures swimming toward me. 

When I heard we would go swimming with whale sharks I couldn't decide if I was excited or scared. The term shark seems intimidating, why would want to go looking something that has the potential to kill us? But whale sharks are gentle creatures and they don't eat meat. There are only a few places in the world that you can actually swim with whale sharks and they are only around for a limited time. 

We packed up our truck with food, snorkel gear, drinks, blankets, and everything needed for a day at the beach. We then headed out of town driving for an hour on a paved road until we get to a bumpy, dirt road. If you didn't know the way, you would never know it led to anything. Another hour past military bases, camels, and goat herds and you reach one of the most serene and unique beaches. 

Instead of sand the shore is lined with large rocks, in the distance there are old run-down concrete buildings, now decorated with graffiti. Once we set up camp we wait for the man to pick us up with is boat. We left Ezra with two of our teammates who stayed behind on shore. They said he did great and only cried once he saw us returning. Finally, our little guy is starting to be comfortable around others!

Once we reached the area where the whale sharks hang out we then wait for the driver to tell us to jump. He does a fantastic job of pulling in front of the whale sharks so when you jump off the boat you land right in front of them! It was amazing! My flippers didn't fit so I wasn't able to swim to keep up with them, but I was still able to grab a few shots with my camera. Which by the way I highly recommend the Lifeproof case for your iPhone. It allows you to take it under water and take photos and videos. A dream come true!

After a few times in and out of the little boat you are so tired and ready to return to shore. We spent the rest of the day snorkeling, eating, talking, and of course getting way too much sun. 

I recently watched a video clip of a guy who traveled to every country in the world. He then would shout off a few things to do in each country, but when he came to our neck of the woods, he said he couldn't find anything to do. Well, mystery man, I feel sorry for you, because you spent all that money traveling all over the world and missed one of the most unique opportunities. I wish I could write him and tell him about all the things there are to do in our little country, whale sharks just one of the many!

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Life in Africa: Part 2

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Since posting the blog A Typical Day in Africa with a Baby, our little guy has grown a lot! He is now 16 months old and all over the place! And now that he is no longer an infant our schedule has opened up to do more in the community. So I thought I'd do another post on what our day/week looks like here in Africa.

7:30 - wake up and get going (In an effort to be vulnerable, I'm not a morning person, so it takes me fooooorever to get out of bed, but I aspire to get better and spend some quiet time during these 30 minutes instead of hitting the snooze button) *insert thumbs down emoji*

8:00 - Sometimes Ezra wakes up around this time, but he usually just plays in his crib until we come and get him. Then we change him, give him some milk, and get him in the high chair for breakfast. Sunday through Thursday our house helper arrives and she often takes over on days I have appointments in the morning.

9:00-12:00 - Mondays I spend my time in the home office or visiting the women at our Project House. I'm usually meeting with the jewelry group for Dreamer & Co or meeting with others as I leave this day open for appointments. On Tuesdays we have team meetings, and Wednesday through Thursday I have language lessons. Friday and Saturdays are the weekend here and on Sunday we get ready for chapel at the base.

10:00 - Ezra takes a nap (depending on the day) and Monday-Thursday our house helper is actually watching Ezra and getting him down for a nap so we can attend language class or work in the office. When he wakes up he has another 4 oz. of milk.

12:00-2:00 - Ezra is usually awake by now and we get ready to have lunch. Lunch is the main meal here so we usually have a big spread, pasta and bread, rice and beans, and other dishes prepared for us by our house helper. 

2:00 - 4:00 - Ezra goes down for a nap, sometimes we do as well :) Most places close down for "siesta" time and so we take this time to rest as well.

4:00 - Ezra has a snack, and depending on the day I leave for my next activity. Monday I attend Girl's Run 2 practice, Tuesdays I have women's volleyball, and Wednesday I have women's basketball on the French base. Reed has langugage class Monday-Wednesday so our house helper stays with Ezra. Thursdays and Sundays I use the afternoon to catch up on office work in the living room, while Ezra runs around playing. 

6:30 - We start preparing dinner. I return back from volleyball or girls' running. On Wednesdays I am actually leaving to go to basketball, so our house helper feeds Ezra dinner and put him down for bed.

7:30 - We eat dinner together. Ezra eats with us and we try to get him to eat whatever we are eating as well. But if he refuses it then we chop up some fruit and bread or make a smoothie for him. 

8:00 - Bath, bottle, bed for little man! He gets one more 4 oz. bottle of milk and then goes down for the night. 

9:00 - We watch tv, catch up on emails, and try to be in bed by 10:00pm, however most days it's really more like 12:00 am. But we are working on that, because getting in the morning is so much harder!

Below are a few answers to some common questions we get about raising a baby in Africa:


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1. What do you feed Ezra and does he still take bottles?

We have transitioned from bottles to sippy cups and we hope to eventually transition to milk only being drunk from the 360 cups. Right now Ezra is such a wiggle worm when we change his diaper, so we often use the sippy cup full of milk to keep him still. It's really the only way. As for food, we try to get him to eat whatever we are having, but there are a few foods that we eat consistently that we found do not bode well for his digestive system (i.e. beans). His favorite (outside of all fruit) is spaghetti and musil (a local dish made out of red lentils). We also make him grilled cheese sandwiches and left over rice pilafs for days when he won't touch our food. We can always count on cut up fruit, pureed fruit, and crackers to be a big hit. His other favorite is any kind of smoothie. In fact, if I make a smoothie for myself as soon as he hears the blender he starts whining for some. The good thing about our smoothies is that we use Juice + so we know he is getting a good dose of fruits and vegetables. 

2. What kind of milk do you use?

The milk here is actually a point of contention. A local company started producing milk, but it gives everyone bathroom issues (even the locals won't touch it). But the company refuses to fix the issue and they have stopped letting many companies import other brands. Sometimes we can find milk from France, but it comes in tiny bottles and is skim milk. We would go through four containers in one week! We finally decided to use the formula designed for babies 12-36 months. We can buy it in a large container and it last for a couple weeks, plus it has extra vitamins to help with growth. 

3. How do you keep Ezra cool in the hot climate?

From November to March the weather can range from upper 60s to upper 80s. While it's still warm inside the apartment we have found it's not too hot for sleeping. So Ezra will sleep in his crib in his own room during this months. We run the a/c for two hours before bedtime and then shut it off when he goes to sleep. We also keep his ceiling fan on high and have a tower fan blowing on his crib. So far, he hasn't woken up sweating, so we count is as success. During the hot months we will move him into our room with the a/c and he'll sleep in the pack-n-play. During the day we keep the fans running and if he's out in the stroller we have a portable fan that attaches to his tray and blows on him. It works wonders! During the hot months if it gets too hot inside then we run the a/c for a little bit and make sure he stays cool. 

4. How do you get clothes and other supplies for him as he transitions?

We plan ahead. We have yet to find a place that sells affordable baby clothes so we find it easier to bring several sizes with us. We have stocked up through size 2T and when we travel during the summer we will plan for the next year. We also have visitors that come from the US during the year and will ask them to bring us something if we find something breaks or we need something.  

5. How did you get Ezra to sleep through the night? 

When Ezra was four months old we read the book, 12 hours by 12 weeks. We started following the guidelines and with a lot of practice we got Ezra to sleep through the night. He would still wake up around 6 am, and sometimes have an occasional mid-night wake-up, but around 1 year he started sleeping 12 hours at night and waking up anywhere from 8am to 10am! He was also going to sleep at 9pm or later. That's the downside of sleeping in the same room, he can't fall asleep until we are quiet in bed and all the lights are off. 

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Who Runs The World?

Life is much easier with a one year old than a newborn. I am finally plugging into community here and able to be away from the house for more than a couple hours. One of the joys of my new schedule is getting to work with our running girls. Every Monday I drive out past wadis, camels, crazy drivers, and end up at a huge stadium with turf grass and an actual track. Underneath my sheet dress is my scandalous capri pants and t-shirt waiting to be seen by this group of teenage girls.

The girls start by warming up for 15 minutes around the track. Afterwards they do their stretches as a group and then for 30 minutes I work with them on strength training. It can be a challenge tailoring exercises for 9 year olds all the way to 17 year olds. We've done sprints, push ups, squats, stairs, resistance bands, and medicine balls.

A few weeks ago we had to break up a fight between two girls because the younger girl kept talking bad about the older girl. And their natural instinct is to start fighting, pulling hair, crying, the whole shebang. But how can you blame them when they have never been taught anything else? How do you teach respect? Well, first off, you model it.

We try to live our lives with respect for the culture, the people, and the customs in the country we are guests in. Second, these girls will have to endure lectures and be disciplined according, something they have never really seen before. Most of their discipline has been in the form of physical abuse. We want to show how one can love sternly but still gracefully. 

So this past week we began implementing discipline. The girls have started arriving late to practice, talking back, and refusing to do drills. It's frustrating to have to tell them to go home for bad attitudes or starting fights, but as I've discovered it's necessary to teach them respect and the importance of listening. So when they arrive more than 10 minutes late they now have to run extra and do push-ups. When they refused to listen, push-ups, when they talk back, push-ups. Yes, some girls began crying and faking push-ups, but others got down on their knees and did what had to be done. It's a slow process, but a necessary one. 

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Ethical Gift Guide

This might be a little late, but at least I got it out before Christmas! Besides, we always need gift ideas all year round, birthdays, mother's days, etc. So here it is, my gift guide that gives back.

One of the things I've been wrestling with lately is understanding where our goods come from. I'm not even close to having an ethical shopping life, but slowly maybe by thinking through our purchases we can make this world a little bit better place.

Here are six of my favorites from this year:

1. AKOLA PROJECT

I've been following Akola for a few months now. "Akola is a nonprofit jewelry brand that empowers women in Uganda and Dallas, TX to redesign their stories. Each piece is handcrafted by 1 of 500 women in poverty working to redesign the future of their families. 100% of Akola revenue is reinvested in our mission to help these women transform their families and communities."

 

Another similiar jewlery company is 31 bits. They also just released their home collection, and I'm in love! They also have some great ideas for little girls. 

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Premptive Love Coalition works across Iraq, Syria, the United States, and beyond. They started in 2008 helping children receive life-saving medical care. As they have grown so has their work. They started the Sisterhood Collective, which turns refugees into business owners. They make handmade soap, candles, and other refugee-made products. Buying from them helps provide jobs, income, and hope for Syrian and Iraqi families.

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I found out about Starfish Project earlier this year and have been eyeing a few pieces of their amazing jewlery. Even better, they have an amazing mission behind what they do. Starfish Project restores hope to women escaping human trafficking and exploitation in Asia. They provide life-changing opportunities through their Holistic Care Programs and their social enterprise where women create beautiful jewelry and become managers, accountants, graphic designers, and photographers.

 


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I couldn't leave out gifts for babe, now could I? Cuddle + Kind makes beautiful handmade dolls for kids, and each purchase provides 10 meals. The dolls are also made by women in Peru and create sustainable fair income for these women.  


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I love Seek the Peace because they are working locally in Dallas to help refugees. I have personally volunteered with them and know those behind the scenes working tirelessly to help refugees acclimate to live in the U.S. I love their new shop and am eager to try out the candles! 


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Another great company that I have had the pleasure of getting to know on a personal level. Stephanie, the founder, is an amazing woman with an even better heart. She started Vickery Trading Co. in order to help empower refugee women through jobs. They make the most beautiful girl's clothes and also have Christmas pajama pants newly released this season! 

Here's a photo of my cute little niece wearing one of the dresses. ---->


The Sounds of Thanksgiving

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The smell of homemade pumpkin pie, sage, thyme, and turkey roasting in the oven—these are the smells I often associate with Thanksgiving. But since living in abroad over the years, I’ve learned to associate this holiday less with smells and more with sounds. While there may be an occasional familiar smell if some lucky American managed to pack a can of sweet potatoes or pumpkin puree in their suitcase, there are usually new smells that come along with each holiday—some good, some not so good—goat manure, sweat, sweet cake, whole wheat dinner rolls—you get my point.

But no matter where I’ve been on Thanksgiving one things remains the same—the sounds. Upbeat conversations about life and loss carry through the air harmonizing with the call to prayer. Children running around barefoot, laughing, playing, crying, and then snoring from the long-expected nap of a sugar crash.

Our Thanksgiving was nothing less than these familiar sounds. We celebrated on the rooftop of a friend’s house and 30 or so people came bringing their best dish cooked with local spices and whatever else they could find. And as it has become a tradition for our little group of expats, the Sunday after Thanksgiving we all gathered to play the annual baseball game. The kids who are away at boarding school return home and we have more than enough people for two teams.

Last year Ezra was only two months old and fell asleep on my lap as we watched Reed play his favorite sport. This year, Ezra ran around getting chased by local kids who loved his white skin and cute little stature. They tried to pick him up, help me when he was crying (because they were picking him up), and even play peek a boo with him. Hopefully one day soon he’ll actually understand all that’s happening, but for now he’s just taking it all in day by day…and tear by tear.

So in the spirit of Thanksgiving we want to say thank you to those who follow along with us and remember us in your prayers. We really could not live here without you. On days when we find ourselves frustrated at the cost of living or crying in pain at the doctor’s office, or mourning the loss of a local friend, we think of you, and remember we are not alone in this journey.

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Ezra with our teammate. These two have grown to love each other, mainly because he feeds Ezra all the things!

Ezra with our teammate. These two have grown to love each other, mainly because he feeds Ezra all the things!

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Lazy Man's Guide to DIY Christmas Decor

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This post has two purposes. For us, it's a post on how to decorate for Christmas in a country that has limited supplies and those supplies can either cost a pretty penny or be anything but pretty. The other purpose is for all of you who may want to decorate for Christmas on a budget. You really don't want to spend money on things only used for a month and Amazon and Target just don't get you as excited as say...myself. 

So here's my lazy man's guide to DIY Christmas decor. 

1. REUSE GLASS JARS

Where we live there is an amazing yogurt brand imported from France. It comes in little glass jars and over time you end up having tons of jars lying around the house. We've used them for mixing essential oils, heating up baby food, and now crafts. I actually got this idea from my friend Rebecca who did an amazing job at painting the jars and making them say "Give Thanks" and adding tea lights to them. The only paint I had laying around was a small bottle of chalkboard paint, so I painted a square on several of the jars, so after Christmas I can just change them to match the next season. On each square I then used a chalkboard marker to write "Joy To The World", one letter on each jar. Afterwards I added a string of battery operated lights I had and voila. 

2. BATTERY OPERATED LIGHTS

Obviously this isn't a DIY, but a good pair of lights will make any project look better, this is the lazy man's guide after all. Best part is that these lights are only $12 on Amazon and you get three strands! They are wire so you can bend them and shape them for anything. I used them for the glass jars above, hung one above our entry way in the living room, and the other one above our advent calendar. I actually got these lights for our play tent for Ezra, but they turned out to be the perfect Christmas decor, and if you live overseas and can't use Amazon, they are so small you could fit them in your pocket, the perfect thing for a friend or family member to stick in their luggage.

 

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3. FREE PRINTS

So this is my favorite hack. Again, lazy man guide. You can always make your own, but painting glass jars was about as much time as I have around here. Besides I always like other people's art much better than mine. So in looking for advent guides (see next number) I found Tasha's blog. She has some gorgeous FREE watercolor Christmas prints, and when you print them out on cardstock they look like you purchased them from your local art fair. Seriously, these things are beautiful. Check out her blog, sign up for emails and you'll get a download to all her free prints. I ended up having some cardstock lying around so I have no idea what kind it was, but I recommend getting the thickest you can find. And if you aren't lazy and want more DIY Christmas guides she has some amazing blogs. 
Free Printables: (I used her 2016 ones)

 

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4. ADVENT CALENDAR

Okay, so believe it or not, this is the first year I've actually done an Advent Calendar. I have no idea why, I just don't think we really did them growing up so I was late to the game on this one. But I wanted it to be more than chocolate (because I can't eat it, stupid dairy, and it melts so it stats in the fridge and I forget, plus I want it to have more meaning on what Christmas really is) Sooooo...I had this great idea to make my own advent calendar and then I would use this guide that corresponds with the Jesus Storybook Bible and write that day's page to read on the back. But in my research I ended up finding some amazing advent calendars already made for me! Hello, yes! So I'm linking the one I've used, but you can always use Pinterest and find other ones. I already had this spot above our table where I usually hang a "gather" sign. I just took it down and tied a string from one end to the other, then used clothespins to hang the cards. This actually did take some work as I had to print them off and make sure I printed the backs correctly (failed the first time), then cut them out and punch holes, tie strings, and manuever behind my large table to hang them up. Still much easier than making one from scratch. 
Advent Calendar Free Printable

That's it! I mean besides the tree, but I don't have any special tricks for that one. So I would love to hear from you all. What your lazy man decor ideas for Christmas? 

Standing Against Evil: My Thoughts on #MeToo

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I often find it hard to process campaigns, politics, hard issues, and fad movements. I think one reason is because I usually see the brokenness with a movement and how it seems to focus on absolutes. But I don’t want to write about my problems with a movement, especially one that is so important, instead I want to talk about my takeaways with #metoo.

Again, this is MY story, not yours, so please don’t assume I am speaking for anyone else other than myself.

1.     Since seeing #metoo in the last few days I’ve started paying attention to movies and tv shows in a different way. I’ve noticed that women are often subjected to the very thing we find offensive, and it’s often without a blink of an eye. In some instances I have seen people stand up and point out the accuser, but I can’t help but wonder why more isn’t done. I don’t want to call out anyone or any show so I’ll stop there, because my point remains the same. 

2.     I know just as many men who have faced #metoo worthy statuses. I think we need to focus on not just the way women are treated, but how humans are treated. This is in NO way to take away from women who have been abused or taken advantage of, this is simply to say that it’s not just women.

3.     Along with number 2, I have also seen a lot of women make remarks about men in passing…just watch your status updates during The Bachelor. For some reason it seems okay when women make remarks about a “hot guy” or they talk about how they’d like to make-out with him or worse. I’ve even seen this from married women. My thought is that as you read this spelled out, you find it appalling, but most of the time we don’t even notice that we are sexualizing another human being, only giving them worth based on their appearance.

4.     I have visited and lived in many countries and I have limited experiences with sexual harassment in the U.S.  That’s not to say it doesn’t happen, again, it’s just my story. I have however, seen and experienced sexual harassment in almost every country I have lived in or visited. Male stalkers, butt slaps, groping, strangers kissing you on the lips…and can I just say that all of these involved NO alcohol and no dark corners of a club. They were in the broad daylight walking down the street, standing in the metro, and doing my everyday life. I also believed it was because of the “culture” and country I lived in, and therefore I should just ignore it. Now I’m learning how wrong this is…I also knew it was because I lacked a male presence. Since marriage I have not traveled alone and I also have not had one instance of sexual harassment—yes, there is a correlation.

As humans we must stand up and fight against all evil. Evil will happen in the darkness and it will be hard to see, it will be disguised, it will “feel” like something that is our fault, it will seem as if we are responsible, but we must not be fooled. We must push back with truth and courage. Challenge those around you, don’t be afraid of what people will think, stand tall in knowing that you can be part of world change.

And if you are someone who has experienced traumatic harassment of any kind, please seek counsel. Seek trusted friends or family, tell your story to someone who is safe, let a counselor walk with you through healing. It will be the hardest thing you will ever do, but one day you’ll hopefully be able to look back and see healing and forgiveness in your own life and in turn hopefully be able to help someone else through their journey.