Friday, December 26, 2014


Hi everyone! Sorry, I've been gone a while, but I have all kinds of blog posts swirling around in my brain (the title of the next one is DIY with Duct Tape Deb - stay tuned!) so prepare to be inundated! Well, sort of. Inundated with only two or three blog posts...

Many of you have asked how it's going - the preparations to go back to South Africa. It's taking longer than I'd hoped, but I would still like to return early 2015.

 I'm going to start gathering the documents for my visa next week - maybe the third time around, I will have my act together! The first time I was completely inexperienced, I'd lost my Social Security card, and I was concerned about getting my passport back in time to travel to Bulgaria. The second time, I was applying for a visa extension while in SA. I'd neglected to keep all of my important documents (apparently I'd tossed my brain out the window as well!), and the police struggled to take fingerprints to American standards for the FBI! This time, I am ready!

I have also been working on raising support. I may have experience getting a visa, and I had to raise support this past year for my internship, so it's not a foreign concept. However, last time I went anticipating a trip of 4 1/2 months. I did end up staying ten months instead, but I managed to save, and also had the help of some generous church family. This time, I will need to raise more per month, and I will have some added expenses. For those of you who are interested, here are the details.

 I will need to buy a (used) car. These are, unfortunately, more expensive in South Africa than in America. Transportation was included in the internship, but as a caregiver, for the most part I will be expected to provide my own transportation. Although there are public transit systems available, they will not be feasible for me to use all of the time. (I still hope to learn to ride the bus! Especially the double decker one - looks like fun, and my friend from church told me IT WAS THE BEST DAY OF HER LIFE!!! when she got to ride on the top, once. So obviously I need to do it.) Taxis are widely used, but are not regarded as particularly safe, especially for a young, naive, female, white American such as myself. (A family from our church was kidnapped and held hostage for a day and a half while riding a taxi. Although these situations are rare, and I have been on a taxi before - with an African friend - I'd rather not depend on them!)

 With said car comes other expenses - gas (I think the price is about $6/gallon in US terms - I didn't calculate it myself, but a friend did), car insurance, and a repair budget. I'd like to get as cheap of a car as possible - we always drive clunkers in my family! - but I've been informed I will be expected to get something marginally reliable! Still, I am sure my car will be on the lower end of the used car spectrum, which will mean I will need money to set aside in case something breaks down. Thankfully, as far as gas prices go, we live in a city, so most of the places I need to go aren't too far away. Hopefully this translates into an affordable gas ("petrol") budget!

The cost of my plane ticket will be more, as I will need to buy a one-way ticket and have enough on reserve for a one-way ticket home....whenever that trip will be. ;)  Last time I paid about $1200 for a round-trip ticket, which is awfully cheap! Of course, I had to pay quite a bit to change it, so I guess it all evened out! A one-way ticket, right now, is between $800-$900.

So, here is an idea of the support I need, and how it breaks down. I am trying to raise approximately $18,000.

Start-up costs

- Car: $5000 budget (excess to save towards repairs)
- Tickets: $2000 (two one way tickets)
- Visa: about $220 (includes visa photo, medical and radiological exams, background check, processing fee, etc,)
- Cost to ship extra luggage over: undetermined. I left some stuff behind, but I really don't think I can fit everything in two suitcases this time! I'd like to take one or two extra pieces of luggage, at this point. (That costs more than I'd like, just one way. I had a two-piece luggage allowance going over last time, and, unexpectedly, a one-piece luggage allowance coming back. I think it cost about $110 to ship the extra suitcase.)

Monthly costs - I am shooting for $900 in support per month. I don't need to have all this up front - some of it can be pledged. This covers costs such as:

- Rent: $240 per month. (1Hope is a very small missions organization, and the cost of rent helps support the baby home and pay for the (very expensive) electricity bill.)
- Internet: we help pay a portion toward the internet bill.
- Food, toiletries, other needs. This fluctuates from month to month. I never seem to hit my low goal, but an average of $200 seems to be achievable. This also enables me to cook for others sometimes.
- Car insurance.
- Gas/petrol
-...and other expenses as they come up. Last year I had some unexpected ones, such as extending my visa (which cost several hundred dollars). And while I don't go on extravagant spending sprees =D sometimes your last pair of jeans rips and your tennis shoes wear out...(and you long for thrift stores...I found a nice little one...but I get more kitchen stuff than clothes there).

I realize these aren't exact numbers - they are more of a projected budget of expenses. I will be hoping to save extra in case my stay extends! It's been quite the adventure this year, learning to budget, but I have enjoyed it! I now have a pretty good idea of how much food I DON'T need to buy...ask my housemates. ;)

So far, I have about $2500 towards my goal. If any of you feel led to support me, that would be amazing! There are details under the "About Me" page at the top of the blog - including a link to give a tax-deductible gift. Also, just a reminder, I am taking custom crochet orders - check out my page at Happy Heads Helping Hearts, including the ever-popular Frozen character hats, like the Elsa hat, below:

If you would like to read my newsletter, you can view it by clicking on this link:

(There are also cute baby pictures, so there is some motivation to read it! =) )

Thanks to you all who have helped in many ways. You are Jesus's hands and feet helping to care for these little ones. I truly appreciate the various things others have done to support me, not just directly in financial ways:

- So many of you who are praying!
- People who have given me yarn.
- My little sis and mom, who helped me make 29 dozen cookies for a craft show.
- My mom, who is letting me sell the house out from under her....just's kind of an online garage sale/curriculum sale. You can view that here, by the way.
- Another friend who is selling curriculum and crafts to help support me. 
- Several friends who have held fundraisers - Pampered Chef, Mary Kay. The Mary Kay fundraiser is still on, until the 31st. If you're interested, you can browse on the Mary Kay website, then contact Jen Digman on Facebook (her profile name is Jennifer Jordan Digman), email her at, or contact her at (330) 883-8551. I am getting 50% of what is sold.

Again, thank you so much to everyone just for caring! I love talking about my time in Africa, so don't be afraid to ask me questions! (Although no, Africa is not just one country, and I was nowhere near Ebola. =) ) Please keep me in your prayers. There is a list of specific prayer requests, for the baby home as well, in the newsletter above.

Friday, December 12, 2014

New arrivals!

Check out these cuties that arrived at the baby home today! I have to hurry up and get back, folks! My Baby Snuggle-O-Meter is getting dangerously low, as are my squishiness levels! (There are only two babies - just four photos.) I'm already partial to the one on the left - he looks a bit like my Small when he first arrived.

Hope your day was just made a little bit cuter!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

10,000 Reasons...or maybe just a few to start.

Although I don't pretend that I was actually deprived of anything this year (come on, folks, SA has to be the most Westernized country in Africa), I have been enjoying numerous things here in the US, most of which I didn't stop and really appreciate before.

List #1: Insignificant, material items.

I realize in the grand scheme of things, these matter pretty much nothing. People matter more. Having a place to stay and food to eat and clean water to drink matters more. But these little bits of icing on the cake? They just make my heart happy!

Wal-Mart - you can enter one store and buy everything, if you so desire and have an unlimited budget (I do not.)

Ranch dressing! The delicious kind. I have been drowning everything in it. Maybe even things that don't belong with it.

Chocolate chips that don't taste like plastic. I'm sitting here eating these right now.

Salvage stores. Actually, this one makes my head hurt a little bit, just thinking of how I could slash my grocery bill in half (at least) if they existed in Africa. I went so far as to daydream about starting one, just so I could shop at it....

A dryer. As my fellow intern put it, "OHMYGOODNESS I PUT A LOAD IN AND IT WAS DRY IN AN HOUR!" If I want to wash my sheets in the afternoon, I can put them, completely dry, on my bed that night.

Gas prices at $2.51 a gallon - realizing that I'll have to pay at LEAST double that next year. This is another thing, like the salvage stores, that makes my head hurt a little bit.

A car. I LOVE MY CAR! (I've only had to fix it once since I came home. Blech.)

Having all my stuff here. I don't have to think, "Sure, I've got a thingamajig - oh wait, I left that in a completely different hemisphere...."

Glorious, wonderful, craft stores. I may have wept when I walked into JoAnn's. (Well, actually, no, I didn't. But it was still a blissful experience.)

Internet shopping. Guess what? I CAN BUY EXACTLY WHAT I WANT! And have it delivered to my house! In days!

A reliable post office. One that isn't allowed to go on strike. Who thinks that is ok, anyway?

Brand choices. This is actually a little bewildering. Who needs 73 kinds of cookies? Someone headed straight for diabetes?

Clothing choices. I assume full responsibility for my lack of clothing choices in South Africa. Somehow, I thought it was more important to take yarn than to pack more than 15% of my wardrobe. Nonetheless, I open my closet every day and it feels like I'm shopping, and (most of) the clothes fit me straight off the rack.

Central heating. That humming noise the furnace makes? Music to my ears. I CAN WALK INSIDE AND GET WARM! Really warm, and not just "let's wrap ourselves in 50 blankets and call this slight increase in temperature 'warm.' "

Everything "looking like home." This was one of the top insignificant things on my list. I missed farms, and woods. Ok, so I didn't miss the spirit-shattering gray five months that trademark the Ohio winter, but you know what I mean...

Thrift stores. You are a thing of beauty. If I had you in Africa, I'd be broke. "Oh, I need to buy this thingamajig and that doohickey and one or two or twelve whatchamacallits for my house!" Alas, my lifestyle as of late has required me to ask many questions whenever I walk into the heaven that is a thrift store (or a salvage shop):

- "Will it make me money?" (Is it yarn? A pretty plate to load with Christmas cookies and resell? Some random craft supply I've been looking for?)

- "Can I use it up?" (Is it a personal hygiene item? A stack of thank you notes? If in a salvage store, is it a delicious food item?)

- "Would this make a good (cheap) Christmas present?"

- "Can I take it with me? Have I already been looking for it?" (I got a great backpack for the trip back for $5 the other day, and a skirt in the style and color I've been looking for all year - for $1.25.)

- "Is there any valid point to storing it if I can't take it with me?" (99% of the time, the answer to this question is "NO." The other 1% of the time, it's probably something that goes in my hope chest.)

This is rather a freeing perspective with which to walk into a thrift store. Still get to enjoy the shopping, but don't go home with the $15 in random goods that I bought for "someday..." Although I still get desperate urges to buy every other kitchen utensil that I see.

Having a piano. OH MY WORD, I didn't realize how incredible it was to sit down and play! If at all possible, I'm going to get my hands on a smallish keyboard next year.

Running a hat business.

So those are just a few things I'm grateful for since I've been home. Every time I hit a new thing on that list for the first time since I've been home (like the first time going to the salvage stores) I get almost giddy.

List #2 - People Blessings, and Other Things Besides Salad Dressing

Getting to see my grandma again.

Tea with my good friend, Jamie.

All my friends at church.

Singing in the church cantata.

Spending time with family.

Standing next to my mom when she sings alto in church.

Homeschool group friends. (I have yet to see some of you!)

Thanksgiving with family.

Christmas with family.

Christmas in my home state and culture.

Visiting my best friend ever and her husband and little sister.

Having my little sister over for a sleepover and forcing her to help me make 29 dozen cookies.

Visiting my nieces and their family. Watching as they blossom with love.

So, those are the short lists. I started the "One Thousand Gifts" challenge several years ago, where you cultivate a habit of thankfulness, and I think I'm up to #1025. I was inspired to pull out the notebook again this year (at a point where I was confronted on being particularly ungrateful...I can't say it completely changed my attitude, but it helped!) and it's so much fun to capture all those moments. If you haven't tried it, you should. =)

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

FAQ's - sort of.

So, with the trip to NC, catching up here at home, and my insane amount of crochet orders (that's not a complaint, it's a blessing...sometimes a little overwhelming, but a blessing...) I've stayed pretty busy. I want to put together a presentation to share at some churches, as soon as my laptop comes back from having that pesky power jack repaired. Apparently I'm hard on them - this is the second time.

Coming home has brought a lot of questions and comments.  For your convenience, I'll answer the most common ones below. Perhaps these answers will be a little more interesting than the ones I have given you individually - I apologize - I'm not so great at thinking on my feet. This is not me trying to ward off questions - I like talking to people face to face, please keep doing that! This is just my attempt at giving you some more intelligent answers than the ones I've been giving...

Was there Ebola?

No. We were very far away. I believe about three thousand miles, although I'm a little foggy on the numbers. Actually, there are/were more cases in the US than there are in SA - we had NONE. Also, we had good medical care, should we have needed to avail ourselves of it. If I cough or sneeze on you (which is gross, I'll try not to) you will NOT catch Ebola.

Do you miss the babies?

Yes. Maybe not so much the first week, when I was enjoying not being needed by little people. (Although honestly, it's not like I needed a break - I think I worked twice the last week I was there because we were doing all our last minute stuff.) But after that, yes, I miss my babies now. I want to snuggle Owlie and Small, and I miss tying a baby on my back and doing my morning chores. I was starting to get used to baby care, African style. I came home and I was like, "Really? You actually carry that big clunky awkward carseat around everywhere? How strange." There is a whole new crop of babies here, but it's not the same when they aren't yours. You hand them back to their parents after a few minutes, and they really aren't dependent on you. It does help my baby fix a little tiny bit though. =)

How was it?/How was your trip?/Did you have a good experience?/Did you like it?

These four similar questions are the most frequently asked questions, and it's wonderful that you are asking - you care about me, and that's great - but they are the hardest to answer! Well, technically, I guess they aren't - the simple answers are "great, great, it was wonderful, and yes, I did." I feel like I owe people more than that, though. I think the difficulty lies in that I don't see it as a trip or an experience, even though technically it is both of those things. It was, and is, more than just that - it's life, and it's an amazing and wonderful thing! I've been told, "You know, this is great, but eventually you have to get back to real life." This is my real life! I don't see this as an isolated event, like a two-week missions trip would be. It's more like a chapter in my life story - I know it will eventually end, but while it happens, I am continuing on with what is now my normal life. You settle down, get into a routine. It's not a mountaintop event, like a weekend youth conference or something. It became even less like one once I started extending, and then when I got the opportunity to go back - for now, this is my "normal." And if you were wondering - people haven't really asked me that much about my plans farther out - no, I haven't the slightest idea what the next chapter will look like.

Did you find a guy?

No, much to the chagrin of my African friends.

Are you going back? When?

Lord willing, yes. Whenever I get support raised. I'm hoping that is early next year.

I also want to respond to a comment, or more specifically, a genre of comment that I keep getting over and over since I have come home. It takes various forms, but it usually sounds something like, "Wow, that's such a wonderful thing you are doing" or "I'm so proud of you."

These are very nice things to say. Please don't stop saying nice things to me - I much prefer it to the alternatives - unkind things, which none of you would say anyway, or just not talking to me. I am, however, usually at a loss as to how to respond with anything besides, "Well, it's great, I love it..." Sometimes I wonder what exactly people are meaning when they say it...I mean, it's nice, and it's true that it's a wonderful thing. But you know? It's not a sacrifice for me to do this. I mean, in a way I suppose it is - taking care of babies IS taxing and I DO get homesick and there ARE conflicts to work through with people. But, this is my passion and I love it. I find so much joy in it. Isn't it amazing that serving God is not burdensome? Because He totally doesn't have to make it so wonderful for us. We have no right to this, but His grace is just so good. (Just so you know, I'm not trying to downplay those who are in really, really hard circumstances, like those persecuted for their faith. Who, I have heard, still find an awful lot of joy in following God - He sustains them.) Also, Romans 12:1 tells me that presenting myself as a living sacrifice is my "reasonable service." Not something out of the ordinary that is extra-special.

So when you tell me, "It's such a wonderful thing that you are doing" and I mumble, "ahem, yeah, sure, I like it a lot" and struggle to remain intelligently verbal (I'm working on this, I think it's a pretty necessary communication skill), I want you to know that me doing this is actually an amazing, wonderful thing that God is doing and I'm pretty much completely in awe of what He's doing, too! It's just kind of really hard to figure out a way to say that without making it sound fake. Also, I don't feel like this 100% of the time, because I am a sinner, and sometimes I get really angry at newborns who cry for hours in the middle of the night. Just so you know.

Another comment - which I don't get directly too often, but is kind of implied in the above statements - is, "You are such a wonderful person."

This one, I will answer straight out. I am not a wonderful person. I spent the entire year living in community and learning what a wonderful person I am NOT. There is no one like a housemate/sister to bring out the sin that is already in your heart! Unless it's living with a whole lot of people who are different from you. Or, the above mentioned crying baby at 2 am who won't sleep. Empirical evidence aside, the Bible says we are all sinners. Only, it goes a whole lot further than that. I don't just make mistakes or messes or errors in judgment. I actually sin against a holy God. In fact, it's to the point where, before God saved me, I was dead in my sin. You can't get much worse than that. That was really pounded into my heart this year.

And I am so grateful.

Because the more you understand your complete hopelessness before God, the judgment you deserve, the more you realize how incredible His grace is. Wonderful and crazy and absolutely ridiculous. Folks, even my attempts at good deeds were sin. My righteousness was like filthy rags - the actual Biblical term for that is pretty gross, so we won't get into it here. There was nothing, nothing, NOTHING I could do, and God extended His grace to me and forgave me.

He loves me.

It has given me so much freedom to understand this. Although it's still a struggle at times (especially around non-Christians who don't understand in the same way), I don't have to worry about people seeing my sin. I can openly confess because I know I am a sinner, but I know my position before God and I am NOT CONDEMNED. Like I said, this is still hard, but it is SO much easier and I'm not running around constantly trying to look good at all costs, like I never make a mistake.

God is good. His grace is so good. This year, I've fallen in love with the Gospel. I always thought it was something to learn, appreciate, and then kind of move on to something "deeper." I didn't realize that you move on deeper...into the Gospel.

So no, I'm not a wonderful person.

But I do serve an incredible God.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

North Carolina adventures and misadventures

Hello all!
Things have been busy since I have been home. I spent ten days recovering from my flight home, then took off again to North Carolina to visit my sweet nieces, Sarah and Anna! You may remember how my good friend, Stephanie, adopted them from Bulgaria - Anna from Burgas and Sarah from Pleven. I got to go on the referral trip with her in June 2013 and saw them last December in Bulgaria on the pickup trip (I was traveling with another friend) and a few days later when they got home.

They are doing so well! Anna speaks English fluently now and is attending school. She loves to follow her mama (and me) around the house ALL DAY LONG and ask questions. (Usually the same ones over and over again.) 

Sarah is talking up a storm, as well. She came home only saying four or five words, and now she sometimes even speaks in whole sentences! She can name and point to her body parts, and she knows her colors. She has been struggling to gain weight, so she had a feeding tube put in this past summer. She loves to watch her shows on TV. Sometimes, when she wants you to leave her alone for a while, she says, "Watch! Bye bye!"

She hates the doctor, which is understandable but unfortunate, because she has to visit there a lot. We went to a doctor's appointment and she sobbed the whole way, "Go home! Get lellow!" She knows if she is wearing her pajamas (the "lellow" ones are her favorite) she gets to stay home all day!

While Sarah is Miss Independent and fond of her alone time (no wonder, due to her sad history of neglect and abandonment...) Miss Anna is my snuggler. And so sweet! I told her I would be leaving on Monday, and she asked me all weekend: "On Monday I go to school? And you go home?
"Yes, I'm going home."
"But you come back next week, right?"
"No, I'm going to leave for a long time. I'm going to Ohio and then to Africa. But I'm going to miss you sooooo much. So I am sad."
"Ok, go ahead and cry, it's ok."
"No, I'm not sad yet, it's fine."
"Go ahead and cry, it's ok. You're sad."
I assured her I'd call her on Skype and it would make me very happy. When we dropped her off at school on Monday morning, she told me, "I'll call you when it's time to get on the computer!"

She also drew me a picture so I could "hang it on the wall in the Africa." You better believe I will!

I left Monday morning, then attempted to ride the Greyhound bus from Raleigh to Charlotte. Notice I said "attempted." Paul (Sarah and Anna's dad) dropped me off at the bus station after we took the kids to school, in ample time to catch my 9:50 bus. I waited and waited. 9:50 came and went, and I got to observe Raleigh bus station culture. It was an educational experience, for sure. Various people looked like they were on some sort of drug, or could be. I heard more foul language than I have all year. One Hispanic guy walked around talking to us in Spanish. I pitied him (I remembered trying to navigate the trolley in Bulgaria, without speaking the language) but even though we kindly told him we didn't understand him, he kept coming back and talking to us, getting more and more frustrated until he finally said something with "tonto" in it and I hoped he wasn't calling us stupid. Come to think of it, maybe he was referring to the three-hour delay we were sitting through...The bus station attendant tried to kick him out, even though he seemed to have a ticket. I managed to find another Hispanic guy who spoke marginally more English, but all I could get out of them was "Him say him sorry." Sorry for what? I have no idea...

And it WAS a three hour delay. At least. I think it might have been three and a half. They told us our bus had broken down and had no idea when a new one would be here. They were most unhelpful and not very polite, although they did give us coupons for free lunches, which was the only bright spot in the whole morning. Somehow I found myself buddying up with an ex-convict...well, maybe buddying up is too strong of a word. Complaining together? He did convince his friend to let me use his phone because...OH...I forgot to tell computer power jack broke AND my phone stopped working, all in the same weekend, so I had no means of communication to tell my aunt and uncle (who were picking me up in Charlotte) that my bus was going to be at LEAST three hours late. In my defense, I didn't find out about the jail time till later, when we were on the bus and this other guy kept annoying him. He was sitting across from me, "I can't do this. I can't punch him. I don't want to go back to jail..."

I saw four blind people (two with guide dogs) and pitied them that they had to use this system. I'm sure if Stephanie has anything to do with it, her girls will never see the inside of a bus!

I had one layover in Winston-Salem, and I was supposed to catch the 1:10 bus. As you can imagine, I missed it - I got there at 3:20. The next bus didn't leave for Charlotte until 6:20. I wouldn't arrive in Charlotte until probably after 8, and it was an hour to my aunt and uncle's. Did I mention that DRIVING between Raleigh and Charlotte takes 2 1/2 hours? This bus station proved to be just as unique of an experience as the last one, complete with foul-mouth screaming match and some rather inappropriate behavior. I found a nice, bewildered lady who generously let me use the last bit of power on her phone to call my aunt and uncle, who said they would come pick me up. Then I tried to help her devise a plan to charge her phone to call HER friend, who at least was already on the way. There were no accessible power outlets and a sign warning that it was against the rules to try to charge your electronics in the building. She kept trying to plug it in behind the vending machine, but some bus station passenger kept yelling at her that she wasn't allowed to do that. I felt partly responsibly for her difficulty, after all, she DID let me use her phone and run down the charge more than it already had...oh well. 

Finally, my aunt and uncle arrived to pick me up. I will never, and I repeat NEVER, be taking Greyhound again unless it is an absolute necessity. I am grateful for two things: all the people who so kindly let me use their phones, and that I didn't die, so in the end, it could have been worse! Never have I ever been so glad to be back in a familiar place, with familiar faces! Next time I am taking the train - I hear it's about the same price!