Unrooted Childhoods: A Chapter by Chapter Review

Last year, just after we arrived in Ecuador and desperate for reading material, I borrowed a book from my sister called Unrooted Childhoods: Memoirs of Growing Up Global. It is a collection of essays from TCK’s from many different countries and many different walks of life. As I read it, I found myself identifying, as a fellow TCK, with many of the writers’ experiences. At the same time, I also found myself wondering how my own children will remember their experiences of growing up in other countries and cultures. I remember thinking that I should make a collection of quotes and passages from the book to revisit later… the only problem was that I found myself wanting to write down about every third sentence!

Now, almost one year later, I have decided to go back and read this book again. I will be doing a chapter-by-chapter “review” of it here on my blog. I use the term “review” loosely, because it won’t be so much a review as it will be an interaction with the essays and with the experiences and viewpoints of the authors. I want to explore both the positive and negative aspects of growing up abroad so that I can better understand and relate to my own children in the years to come.

See, I know from personal experience what it is to be a TCK, and all the blessings (and the baggage) that goes along with growing up abroad. But I don’t yet know from personal experience about raising TCK’s. I’m learning as I go, and I’m thankful to have not only my own life experiences to draw from, but the life experiences of others, like the writers of the essays in this book. I’m also thankful for all of the study and research that has been done in the last few decades on TCK’s. So much more is understood today about children who grow up overseas, about their unique gifts and also about the challenges they face.

As I re-read the introduction of this book tonight, the following sentence jumped out at me: “the paradox of nomadism is that its benefits are always tied to losses.” (p. 3) I think that neatly sums up how I hope to interact with this book: I want to recognize and give thanks for the benefits of an “unrooted childhood” without glossing over or minimizing the losses.


Celebrating Passover

We celebrated Passover in our home for the third time this year. Friends introduced us to the idea of the Messianic Passover years ago when we were living in Japan. Since then, we have also experienced it in a church setting, but it wasn’t until we were living in Portugal that we tried hosting a seder dinner in our own home. And ever since our first one, I knew I wanted Passover to become a part of our Holy Week / Easter remembrances and celebrations each year.

Why would a Christian family observe a Jewish holiday? Here are a couple of reasons we have made it one of our traditions: Every time I participate in a Passover dinner and service, my understanding of the Christian practice of taking communion is deepened and enriched. Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper when he was celebrating the Passover with his disciples, and it wasn’t just a quick 10-minute service where trays of tiny crackers and cups of grape juice were passed around. It was a lengthy service built around an entire meal with many symbolic elements. Jesus “re-imagined” the Passover and some of those elements, when he told us to “do this in remembrance of me.”

But beyond that, I think there is much that Christians can gain from the study of Jewish culture. Not only were Christ and the apostles all Jews, but the early church was heavily influenced by Jewish culture. I think Christianity does itself something of a disservice when it ignores that rich heritage entirely. Passover was my first foray into Jewish tradition, but I am interested in learning more about other Jewish holidays and festivals, such as Purim and Hannukah. I’m sure that there are faith lessons I could take away from those holidays as well.

If you have never participated in a Messianic Passover, I encourage you to try to find a way to do so, either in a church setting or in your own home. There are many excellent resources online for planning and hosting your own seder, including free printable and downloadable copies of the haggadah (the script that you follow during the service).

A Second Car

It’s official. Today, we became a two-car family again when we brought home our Nissan Patrol. It has been almost 7 years since we owned two vehicles at the same time (not counting the first few months we spent in Ecuador when we were still trying to sell our mini-van in the United States). In fact, we have been a two-car family for only a handful of our nearly 14 years of marriage. And if you read my “Wheel-Less” posts, then you know about our experiences with not owning a vehicle at all.

I confess: I sort of resisted the purchase of a second car for a long time. Not because I was afraid of driving in Ecuador (well, maybe that played a teensy part), but more because owning a second vehicle just seemed so — extravagant. I mean, we’re missionaries. We already have one car, which is more than about 95% of the rest of the people on planet Earth. Do we really need a second one? For that matter, do we really need the first one? Is it right for us to have so much when others have so little? Two cars means we will spend twice as much on transportation — two cars to maintain, two cars to fill up with gas, two cars to insure, two cars to pay the yearly tax on…

But several things have become apparent over the last several months which have slowly shifted my thinking in regards to this. The first is that Rusty is probably going to be away from home a lot more than either of us thought he would be when we first came to Ecuador. The second is that, although cabs are a viable option, they are not an option I am entirely comfortable with, for various reasons (see Wheel-Less: Part 2). And the third is, that while my husband never complains at being asked to chauffeur me around, I know that he would like for me to be a little more independent (to be able to drive myself to the store, for example). So while I’m not completely thrilled at the idea of being a two-car family again, I recognize that this is a blessing for our situation. And my attitude should be one of gratefulness for the blessing of having found this car, for the blessing of being able to afford it, rather than accepting it begrudgingly.

Oh, I am excited at the prospects of independence and the ability to go places on my own that this car represents. Now, to conquer my fear of driving in Ecuador, and to get my Ecuadorian driver’s license!

My new ride

My new ride

Why do I DO this to myself?

One of the problems with being a detail-oriented person is that you get stuck with all the jobs that require attention to detail. Most of the time, I don’t mind. In fact, I quite enjoy sorting, organizing, bringing order to chaos, making lists, cataloging things, editing and proofreading, etc. But I absolutely HATE any task related to keeping track of our family / ministry finances. And let’s face it — financial tasks require a lot of attention to detail, whether that be paying bills, balancing a checkbook (okay, I don’t really do this anymore, I just keep track of it all online), creating a budget, doing your taxes, or expense reporting. I hate it all!

And I hate the vicious cycle I get caught in over and over. I put off doing financial tasks, not necessarily because of my dislike for them, but because I am a perfectionist. Did you know that perfectionists tend toward procrastination? A perfectionist wants to do something perfectly, and if she can’t do it perfectly, she’ll put it off until the day she can… only that day never comes. Meanwhile, she gets further and further behind, until it (whatever IT is) becomes this huge and daunting task that she can’t possibly ever find the time to do perfectly. Kind of like leaving the dishes to pile up and pile up until it takes you a couple of hours to wash them all. I don’t do this… I wash as I go, and certainly after every meal. I don’t understand why I can’t be more this way with financial tasks.

I am attempting to be real on this blog, so I’ll just go ahead and confess: I am now almost 7 months behind on our expense reports. And the deadline for filing our taxes is looming in front of us and causing me a lot of stress because of how far behind I am. I am not organized AT ALL in this area right now. I haven’t established the systems to get and keep myself organized and on top of things.

Why do I DO this to myself?

This is not an excuse, but I don’t feel like I have the know-how or the right tools to do this well and efficiently. When we went through all our missions training (which was fairly extensive), we received almost no training related to finances. There was a little advice on fundraising and setting a budget, but nothing on accounting for your expenditures on the field, making financial reports to your sponsoring church, etc. I sometimes feel as though I’m bumbling around in the dark. I try out different programs, apps, websites. I design my own templates for things like expense reports and then I wonder if I’m trying to reinvent the wheel. Mission organizations, please, please, give your people practical training in finances, not just in how they raise their money, but in how they spend and account for it! This is probably just as important as training in cultural awareness, language learning, and spiritual preparedness.


So, the other day, I just got mad. There were piles of receipts stashed in about five different places all over the house, and I was so tired of looking at them, and so angry with myself for letting it come to this. I gathered them up and sorted them by month and filed them in this little box. And then I sat down and made a “financial to-do list” — all the tasks related to finances that I need to do to be truly “caught up. Breaking the ginormous task down into smaller, more manageable ones. It’s a long list, but if I can manage to do at least one thing per day over the next two weeks, I should be caught up.

And when I’m caught up, I’m going to celebrate by drinking my last Dr. Pepper!

The Stay Awake Challenge: Week 7

Week 7 is about noticing the details. Read the entire post here.

When I’m busy, feeling rushed or stressed, or just in a task-oriented mode, I often fail to notice the details. It’s amazing how slowing down just long enough to really see all the little things wakes you up to life and to wonder. And I think an awareness of the details is one of the primary characteristics of a creative person — artist, writer, photographer, musician, etc. So not only does noticing the details help me be more awake, it also helps me be more creative.

So here are a few observations (and photos) from the last couple of days, as I have tried to be more intentional about noticing the details.

IMG_55511) I’m finally starting to feel as if my house is finally starting to come together. It’s not like we have made any big improvements, and there is still a lot to do, but little by little, we are getting things done. And all the little details add up. I think it has a lot to do with the fact that I am beginning to reestablish some of the systems that keep my home organized and running smoothly, which isn’t really a visible thing. But hanging pictures on the walls is — and we’ve been doing a little of that here and there. Before he left for the jungle last Friday, my sweet husband helped me hang some pictures in our bedroom, and it’s amazing the difference that made!

IMG_55562) One of the things I like best about living in Ecuador is wide variety of fresh fruits and veggies, available year-round, and so affordable. Most of what you can buy in the States, you can find here, as well as many other fruits I had never heard of before I came here! These are the fruit bowls on my kitchen counter, piled high with fruit. Believe it or not, most of this will be gone by the end of the week. My kids love fresh fruit and eat it all the time.

3) Most days as a stay-at-home mom, I get to the end of the day and think, “What exactly did I DO all day?” Of course, I can list all of the things I do, but when there aren’t any visible, tangible results of your work, it’s easy to begin to feel like you’re wasting your time. This is especially true when you are simply playing with, interacting with, teaching, training, disciplining your kids. I mean, even housework and meal prep have visible, tangible results! On Monday, the boys asked me to build them a Brio train-track. So I did, and I tried to make it a cool one. (I am not nearly as good at this as Rusty, but I gave it my best shot.) It occurred to me later that this is actually a very visible and tangible example of how I spend my time with my kids, so I took a picture of the track after I was done as a way to remind myself — I am Mom, and this is what I do!


Free Music from Page CXVI

Well, I was all set tonight to continue catching up on the Stay Awake Challenge, but that will have to wait until tomorrow, because I just have to share this musical goodness!

Today, a post popped up in my reader from Clearing Customs, a blog I recently started following, which alerted me to the fact that the band Page CXVI (formerly The Autumn Film) has made their entire discography available for FREE during the month of March! I love free music. And I especially love quality free music. I had never heard of this group before, but my interest was piqued when I read that they re-imagine old hymns with a fresh, new sound. I love old hymns. I feel like there is a richness, a depth to them that is often missing in modern “praise-and-worship” music. Don’t get me wrong, I like “praise-and-worship” music, too. But I believe the old hymns can still speak to us, still convict and challenge us, and I’m so glad there are musicians out there with a passion to make them relevant again.

I listened to a few of Page CXVI’s songs (there are several music videos on Youtube), and fell in love. I immediately downloaded all of their albums, and they are playing now on my computer as I type this. Beautiful musical arrangements, familiar words — the combination is like a balm to my soul. (If you decide you want some of their music for yourself, head on over to Noisetrade for the free downloads.)

And… get this… they do a version of “Be Still My Soul,” which is my absolute favorite hymn of all time. Tears blur my computer screen as the words wash over me: “Be still my soul, the Lord is on your side… Leave to your God to order and provide… in every change, he will remain… Your God will undertake to guide the future as in ages past.” And this one thought emerges: I want to believe it. Oh, how I want to believe.

Driving (Legally) in Ecuador

If you read Wheel-Less (Part 3), then you know that I will soon have a car that I can drive. Which I am truthfully more nervous than excited about. Because having a car to drive and actually driving it regularly means that I need to be a legal driver in Ecuador. And that means an Ecuadorian driver’s license. An international license (which is what I have now) is really only acceptable for someone who is not planning to live somewhere long-term. By law, and in order to be covered by our insurance in case of an accident, I need an Ecuadorian license.

No biggie, right? I’ve done this before, right? Well, actually, I haven’t done this before. Despite the fact that I have lived abroad 25 years of my entire life, I have never had anything but a U.S. license (or an international license from AAA). I reached the legal driving age in Kenya (18) about 2 months before I left for college, so what was the point, really? Our first 3 years in Japan, we made the decision not to put me on our insurance because drivers under the age of 25 made the cost of insurance drastically more expensive. Since I wasn’t driving, there was no need for me to get a driver’s license. The second time we were in Japan, we were just getting ready to start the application process, having been there almost a year, when we received word that Rusty’s mom had a terminal brain tumor and decided to return to the States. In Portugal, we drove on international licenses since we weren’t planning to be there long-term.

So, my Ecuadorian license will be my first driver’s license from another country. And I find myself dreading the whole process — the gathering of paperwork, the multiple trips to this or that office to do this or that task, only to have to repeat it all the next day because the form wasn’t filled out in the correct color of ink (or some other absurdity). And I am dreading the tests, not the written test so much — even though it is in Spanish. But the driving test? I am absolutely petrified. I know this is carryover from when I took the driving test for my U.S. license (at the ripe old age of 20 — yes, this marks me as a TCK!). The only test in my life I have ever failed. It took me two months to work up the courage to go back in and try again.

I keep telling myself that it probably won’t be nearly as difficult or unpleasant as I’m making it out to be in my mind. But I am a worry-wart, and this is one of the things I fret over at night as I’m trying to fall asleep. Hopefully, soon, it will all be over, and I will stand on the other side and say, “That wasn’t so bad. Why was I so worried?” We are taking two weeks off language classes starting next week in order to take care of some paperwork, including applying for our Ecuadorian drivers’ licenses.

Wish me luck! And I’ll try to blog some about the process, once it’s done.

The Stay Awake Challenge: Week 6

Week 6 is about embracing the moment. Read the entire post here.

I tucked the words “embrace the moment” into my head before we left for the beach. I was determined to enjoy our time away, determined not to let all the things I was worried and stressed about spoil our few days of vacation. And I really was able to put it all out of my mind for the most part and just enjoy my family.

There were so many little moments to embrace… from boogie boarding with Alex, to splashing in the waves with Stephen to digging in the sand with Benjamin. There were moments of beautiful sunsets, cool ocean breezes, the warm sun on my back, soaking in the hot tub. There was falling asleep to the sound of the surf and reading for hours on end in the afternoons and evenings.

Of course, it’s easy to embrace the moment when you’re on vacation, removed from your daily routine with all its stresses, both major and minor. It’s much more difficult to do this in the midst of problems, annoyances, busy-ness, to-do lists, schedules, and responsibilities. We are back from vacation, back to our routine. I am back to being a single mom for another week while Rusty is off to Kumanii with all the students from the Bible college.

I think what I am starting to realize is that it’s just as important to embrace these daily moments. I’ve gone back and forth on the whole Instagram thing (as if I need one more thing to do), but last night, I decided I was going to give it a go for awhile. I think it will help me start to notice some of the beauty in the ordinary and capture it with a camera phone. I’m going to wait to sign up until after I have my new iPhone set up and activated — hopefully, that will be soon!

Last night, I made cookies with the boys, and when we were done, I let them lick the bowl. They were so excited — to them, that was the best part of making cookies! Ever notice how good kids are at embracing the moment? They sat on the floor with the mixing bowl between them and worked away at it with their spoons, enjoying one of the simple pleasures of childhood. Meanwhile, I embraced a few moments of peace and quiet!


Wheel-Less (Part 3)

Part 1 here, Part 2 here.

Okay, I’m not really wheel-less right now. At least not all the time. But when Rusty goes out to the jungle, I am usually left without a vehicle, sometimes for days at a time. When Rusty does leave his truck here in Quito (because he’s traveling down by bus or plane with a short-term group), it just sits until he comes back. It’s a cool truck, but I am loathe to drive it for a couple of reasons:

Our Landrover Defender

Our Landrover Defender

  • It’s so big. I mean, really, this car is ridiculously big. It will hold up to 9 people comfortably, and with the roof-rack and the luggage rack that attaches to the back, all their stuff as well. So, it’s perfect for treks to the jungle and back, but it’s not exactly an ideal car for driving in the city.
  • It has a manual transmission. I can drive a stick, but in Quito with the stop-and-go traffic and all the crazy drivers, I would just prefer not to have to. It’s just one more thing to think about.

So, for the last year, my husband has been my chauffeur when he’s here, and when he’s not, we usually stick fairly close to home. I try to stock up on groceries before he leaves, but if I do run out of something, there is a well-stocked little store in our neighborhood. There is public transportation here in Quito (in the form of buses and trolley lines), and sometimes I think to myself, “I really should try to learn my way around on the buses and trolleys.” And then I see one, usually packed to the gills, and I remember all the stories I’ve been told about pickpockets and the like. As a gringa, I’m an obvious target in a situation like that. I can’t decide if having my kids with me would make me less of a target (because people might take pity on me) or more of one (because people would assume I was distracted).

So, if I need to go across town when Rusty’s away, the other option is to take a cab. Taxis are plentiful and fairly cheap in Latin America, but they are not without their own risks. Every time I take a cab, I’m literally trusting someone I don’t know from Adam to get me (and usually my 3 kids) safely from point A to point B. My kids ride in the taxis without their car seats or even safety belts, since most cabs don’t have them in the back seat. I don’t like that one bit, but it is what it is. In addition, there have been several stories in recent months of people being robbed in a taxi. This usually happens when the person is alone and the cab-driver (who is in league with a gang of thieves) pulls over to let them into the car. They steal your money and then push you out on the street. Rusty actually met a lady from South Africa several months ago who had just been the victim of a taxi-robbery.

For some time now, we have been looking to purchase a second car, something smaller and more conducive for city driving, something with an automatic transmission, something that I could drive when Rusty is away. We were having a hard time finding something that we both liked, that fit our budget, and that was also a good, solid car. Buying a used car in a third-world country can be a tricky business. Unless you can buy a vehicle from someone you know and trust and believe took good care of their car, you really just don’t know what you are getting. No Carfax in Ecuador!

Then, a couple days ago, we found one, thanks to my sister, who has been scoping out the For Sale boards at Alliance Academy, where she works! The owners are long-time missionaries to Ecuador who recently returned to the U.S. They accepted our offer; our mechanic confirmed that it is a good vehicle; now, all that remains is to arrange the bank transfer. So, perhaps by the end of next week, I will have a car that I can drive!

Honestly, up until recently, I was really okay with not driving. Driving is stressful to me under the best conditions — American roads, American drivers, American rules. Quito traffic and the aggressive drivers here really freak me out, and it’s not even as bad as it is in Africa! But lately, I have begun to feel slightly “handicapped” because I don’t drive and sometimes don’t even have a car. So now I (almost) have a car… I guess that means it’s time for me to conquer my fears of driving in a foreign country and get out there in the fray!

Wheel-Less (Part 2)

Read Part 1 here.

The second time we were without a vehicle for an extended length of time was when we moved to Portugal for what was supposed to be 9-12 months of language study, but ended up being almost 2 years, thanks to a complicated Angolan visa process and then a surprise pregnancy.

Our situation was a bit different this time around than when we moved to Japan as newly-weds. For one thing, we had two children by this time. Alex was 4 when we moved to Portugal, so he could walk and get on and off buses without much assistance, but Stephen was only about 9 months old, so he had to be carried. We quickly discovered that strollers are a royal pain when riding public buses, so Rusty opted for the Kelty kid carrier, and I just used my sling. We only bothered with a stroller when we knew we were going to be doing a lot of walking, like if we were spending the day at the zoo.

The second difference was that we used public transportation much more in Lisbon than we ever did in Mito. At first we thought we might like to ride bikes from time to time, like we did in Japan. We bought bikes right after moving to Portugal, but Rusty decided he didn’t like his and sold it to a friend right away. Mine sat outside our bedroom window the entire time we lived there, and then I gave it away when we left. I don’t think I ever rode it. We lived within biking distance of our language school, but there wasn’t a route that didn’t involve either giant hills or a busy road with no shoulder. I also don’t think we really thought through how we would bike with two kids in tow. (Hint: It’s not as simple as biking solo.)

But beyond that, the public transportation system in Lisbon (and across all of Europe, really) is so efficient and accessible, and for the most part, safe. We bought monthly bus passes that allowed us to ride a bus line and also included the Metro (subway) and trolley systems downtown — convenient when we were going sightseeing. We rode public transportation to school, to take Alex to school and pick him up, to go to friends’ and teammates’ houses, to church, to the mall for Date Night. And we walked — A LOT. European neighborhoods are laid out in such a way that most everything you need for daily life is within walking distance. We were a 5-10 minute walk away from a bank, post office, supermarket, green grocer, butcher, bakery/cafe, doctor, dentist, pharmacy, park, several restaurants, etc. Europeans don’t NEED a car for daily life in the same way that many Americans NEED a car, mostly due to the appalling lack of decent public transportation options in all but the largest cities. When we lived in Nashville, our (church-provided) house was in a VERY affluent neighborhood, but it was 15 minutes by car from the nearest shopping center with supermarket, ATM, restaurants, etc. And of course no public buses came to that area!

Of course, there were some things that were frustrating about relying on public transportation — waiting in the rain at bus-stops, crowded buses, not remembering that the schedules change on weekends and holidays, barely missing your bus, and getting on the wrong bus without realizing it (I remember a particularly frustrating afternoon when I did just this while trying to get myself and the two boys to a team meeting on my own). Rusty chafed more than me under the restrictions of not having his own vehicle… he loves to get out and explore on his own, to not be bound by bus routes and schedules.

When we realized that we would be in Portugal longer than we had anticipated, and also that we were going to have a baby there, we began looking into getting a vehicle. We purchased one from some Brazilian friends at church who were leaving Portugal and returning home. Of course, as a pregnant woman with swollen feet and an aching back, I appreciated not having to walk so much or haul my whale-sized self onto and off of buses. But the biggest thing I noticed once we were driving again was how much more quickly we could get places in our car. Going to church via bus and Metro took the better part of an hour, depending on all the connections. In our car, we could do it in about 25 minutes or less. Getting to the beach on public transportation was a huge feat that involved about 2 hours each way — thus, a trip to the beach was typically an all-day affair. But in our own car, the trip took 30 minutes, so we started going more often, sometimes just for a couple of hours in the afternoon. I was surprised at how much riding public transportation for over a year had skewed my perception of how far away certain things were.

Of course, many things are easier when you have your own car. But I will always be grateful for the experience of doing without a vehicle while living in Japan and in Portugal. Through that, I learned that it IS possible to live long-term without a car, even with small children, and that there can be many benefits to this life-style — better health, lower transportation costs, and a reduced carbon footprint. I also learned a respect for those who live this way, whether because they can’t afford to own a car, or by personal choice.

I am also VERY thankful for our car!