The Stay Awake Challenge: Week 14

Week 14 is about honoring your body. Read the challenge here.

I’m coming to realize something about myself. I’m really not that great at self-care. I’m especially not good at taking care of my body. Regular exercise, getting enough rest, drinking plenty of water, even flossing are all things I struggle to incorporate into my life. That probably sounds funny coming from a thin person — but just the fact that someone doesn’t have a weight problem doesn’t necessarily mean they are healthy. In fact, I would venture a guess that sometimes thin people are some of the most unhealthy people — because they don’t have to eat right and exercise regularly in order to maintain their thin physique.

Over the past month, I have been taking steps to change that. I purchased The Ultimate Homemaking E-Book Bundle when it went on sale at the end of April, and my purchase included a 2-month free membership to Fit 2 B Studio, a sort of online health club with tons of workout videos that you can do in the comfort of your own home. I decided I wanted to start small with maybe some ab workouts to try to flatten out my “belly pooch” that has been there since after Ben was born. So, I started poking around the website and trying out some of the videos, and I discovered that I have something called diastasis (a separation of the abdominal muscles, very common after pregnancy) that can’t be fixed with crunches, sit-ups, and other traditional ab exercises. I’ve been doing some of the exercises on the Fit 2 B website for almost a month now, and I am very pleased with the results I’m seeing — and I haven’t had to do a single sit-up! I also set up our Wii Fit so I could use that for exercise as well.

For this challenge, I am supposed to write a list of 5 things that I will do to help me honor my body. Obviously, exercise is one (my goal is 3-4 times per week for now). The others are — to drink more water, start taking my vitamins again, go to bed by 11:00 (need to revisit the sleep challenge), and limit myself to one soda per week.

The picture I chose to use for this challenge was taken during our anniversary get-away to the Black Sheep Inn. We went on an invigorating hike and ate our picnic lunch at the top of a ridge with amazing views of a peaceful valley. My legs were burning when we got back to our cabin, but it felt so good to be so physically tired. Later that afternoon, we soaked our sore muscles in the hot tub, and I even painted my toenails (something I rarely do). I need to be better at making time to pamper myself occasionally — even if it’s just a bubble bath or a pedicure or a haircut (desperately need one of those!).photo(1)I am more than my body, it’s true. But I also inhabit this body for now, and hopefully for many years to come, and I need to make sure that I honor it by taking care of it to the best of my ability.


Recap of the Past 2 Weeks

It feels like a million years since I last wrote. But it’s really been only two weeks. Here are a few of the highlights:

  • We finally got to meet with the counselor at Alliance to go over the results of the ADHD and intelligence tests that Alex took. This is really worth a post in and of itself, but in summary, while he does have mild tendencies toward ADHD, it was not anything the counselor felt warranted further testing or medication.
  • We went to see “Star Trek Into Darkness,” and it totally rocked! Best movie I have seen in a long time — I absolutely love what they have done with the series reboot! We had to settle for the 3D version, which I usually try to avoid because it makes me sick to my stomach; however, this time, I barely noticed after awhile. The technology must be getting better.
  • Neill and Julie stayed with us for over a week, and we thoroughly enjoyed their company. We took them up to Papallacta one day to soak in the hot springs, and Neill helped Rusty do some work on our Land Rover. They headed off to Columbia, their next stop on their round-the world venture, last Monday.
  • We had our friends the Yorks over for one last meal and round of Dominion before they headed back to the U.S. and their new life there. We will sure miss them!
  • We celebrated our 14th anniversary with a two-night stay at the Black Sheep Inn, in a truly lovely part of Ecuador near the stunning Quilotoa Crater Lake. Also worth it’s own blog post. The kids stayed with Josh and Julie and had so much fun they didn’t want to leave! Stephen actually started crying when we pulled up to the house to pick them up, and it wasn’t because he missed us.

Okay, so that was all just the first week. Last week, we finished a 2-month stint of focused language classes. After all the craziness of the past several weeks, I am honestly looking forward to taking a break from Spanish studies for awhile. It was all I could do to get through that last week, and now that it’s over, I want nothing more than to just curl up in my bed and hibernate away from the world for at least a week with my Robert Jordan book (now on #3, with 11 to go). But, well, I’ve got these 3 kids that need to be fed and clothed and educated. And Rusty left on Sunday for the jungle and the first medical mission of the summer, so it’s all on me for the next few days.

I’m hopeful that as life slows down some over the next several weeks, I’ll have more time to devote to writing and some other projects. I’m actually going to be guest-posting on 2 other blogs in the next couple of months! I’ll be sure to link those up here once they go live.

May 19th

Well, the day is finally over. We had a full house this evening with all the Operation Ecuador missionaries, including several new interns. Our house was full and LOUD with kids running and playing and the adults visiting and playing cards. The singing was amazing, the curry buffet was delicious, and the birthday cakes (for Rusty and Josh) were yummy too. It does my heart good to see people enjoying themselves in our home.

And to top it all off, today, some new friends arrived to stay with us for a few days. They are Neill and Julie, of They are currently in the middle of a 2-year trip around the world in their Land Rover Defender! They started in England, came down through Europe and Africa, and then shipped their car to South America. You can read all the fascinating details on their blog (click the link above). Rusty began corresponding with them a couple months ago and offered them a place to stay when they came through South America. They are excited to sleep in a real bed again for a few days and have a place to wash all their clothes, and Rusty is enjoying “talking shop” about Land Rovers and hearing all their amazing stories.

I know the wheels are turning in his brain, now more than ever, figuring out how we can do something similar — someday. Someday when our kids are older and we are independently wealthy — ha! I’ll admit, there is a part of me that finds the whole idea intriguing. And another part that can’t get past thinking what a hassle all those border crossings and car shippings must be! I told Rusty awhile back that I didn’t think I could do a “round the world” trip in the Land Rover, but I might consider a trip around South America. So, who knows? Maybe in 10 years or so, we’ll set out on our own continental journey.

It’s fun to dream about, anyway!

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!

Reflections from the Beach (written March 12)

We got back to Quito yesterday from a few days of family vacation at the beach. It was some much needed time away from all the responsibilities, stresses, and distractions of daily life. I wrote this in my journal on the morning we left, sitting out on the veranda and watching the vast ocean as the day dawned:

We are at Playa Almendro for a few more hours. 5 days we have enjoyed here — 5 idyllic, carefree days — and I don’t want it to end. But all too soon, we will be loading up for the journey back to Quito.

I kept thinking I would grab some time to write while we were here. I even brought my computer, to do some writing for my blog. But I never turned it on the entire time we were here, and I never sat down to write in my journal until this morning. Maybe I was just having too much fun. Or maybe I needed a break from even the responsibility of writing, much as I enjoy it. Or maybe I was more interested in just relaxing, just being, than I was in reflecting and pondering and gathering the words to write about my feelings.

We swam, played in the sand, soaked in the hot tub, played games, read books, watched movies, laid in the sun. It’s amazing how quickly life at the beach settles into a lazy routine based on the rising and setting of the sun. We were up each day by 7:00 (without an alarm) and falling asleep in our books by 10:30. We ate lots of yummy food, and thanks to my prep work last week on the meals, and Rusty’s help with the dishes, I didn’t have to spend all my time in the kitchen.

Yesterday afternoon, I sat out on the beach for quite awhile, watching the waves roll in and listening to the pound of the surf. And I thought how easy it is to be at peace here — away from all my worries and responsibilities and stresses, and with the wide empty ocean to look at, to listen to, to soothe my soul. It’s always been one of my dreams to live by the sea. But I wonder — if I could see this every day, would it still have the power to melt away my cares, to put life back in perspective for me? Or would it just become part of my “normal,” something I see but don’t really notice?

I do know that the sea calls to me, has always called to my heart in a way that I can’t really explain. Every time I come back to it, I feel a sense of homecoming. And that surprises me, not only because I’ve never lived by the sea, but because that sense of home, of belonging, often eludes me as a TCK and global nomad, someone who is from everywhere and nowhere all at the same time.

Maybe it has to do with the fact that the ocean is much the same, no matter where you are in the world. It’s something I’ve been ruminating over since yesterday.

Wheel-Less (Part 1)

A couple of weeks ago, our Land Rover was out of commission for about a week. We stayed close to home and took taxis when we needed to go somewhere further afield. One day, after Rusty had walked to the store in the rain to pick up a few things he needed, I asked him if it made him nostalgic for the good ol’ days of not having a vehicle. He actually rolled his eyes at me, so I guess the answer is no, but it got me to thinking on the two times in our married life where we have been completely wheel-less.

The first time was right after we moved to Japan as newlyweds. We didn’t buy our car until we had lived there six months. We took buses occasionally and rode the train, but our primary means of transportation was our bikes! We rode them to school and home each day, to church, to the Soken (Board of Education) office every Friday for our AET meetings, to the grocery store, to friends’ houses for dinner, to the park and Lake Senba, all over Mito really.

Of course, it’s easy to romanticize it now, to remember being out in nature — the fields of wild-flowers, the plum blossoms, the leaves ablaze with autumn colors — the feel of the wind in my face, how fit I was just from riding my bike everywhere (hello, toned calves!). But it was also so cold in the winter that I actually got frostbite on my toes and so hot in the summer that I was drenched in sweat after my 5-minute bike ride to school in the morning. Riding a bike in the pouring rain with a basket full of groceries is just not fun. And then there was the time I almost got hit by a car.

After we bought our car, we both felt as though our world had opened up. We could go more places, do more things. We weren’t bound by how far we could reasonably go on a bike or by train schedules and bus routes. We experienced a new-found sense of freedom. The world was ours for the exploring.

I continued to ride my bike to school and back each day since my school was only a 5-minute ride from our house. Rusty started using the car for his commute. I may or may not have occasionally begged him to drop me off at school when it was cold or raining. It was nice to have that option, but I actually found that I really enjoyed my daily ride. Since we left Japan, there have been times when I really miss just hopping on my bike and pedaling down the road, feeling the wind in my face as I ride and the rush of endorphins afterwards.

Part 2 coming tomorrow.


So Many Questions (written Jan. 17)

We went upriver in the canoe today, as far as we could go before heavy rapids prevented us from going farther. Some words that came to mind as I sat there watching the dense jungle flash by on either side — peaceful, untouched, remote. Kent says there are villages beyond the rapids, but you would have to hike into them. It is hard to imagine living in such a remote place. Kumanii and the nearby villages seem remote to me. No roads, no cars, no way in or out except by the river. But to live where not even boats can go? That gives whole new meaning to the word.

On the way back downriver, we stopped at a Chachi village to buy some baskets. Even after years growing up around poverty-stricken people, it slaps me in the face — the kids with their bellies swollen from parasites, dirty, ragged clothes, bare, muddy feet. So much need. And then the questions start gnawing at me — Why do I have so much while they have so little? Why do I have access to basic things like medicine, healthy food, clean water, while they don’t? Why are my children so privileged just by virtue of the fact that they were born Americans? What can I do for these people, these precious children, these struggling mamas? What can any one person do in the face of such obvious, desperate need? Where does one even begin to bring hope and comfort and a better life?

P.S. I don’t have any answers, by the way. The questions, they’re still gnawing.

Word Pictures (written Jan. 16)

Just a few thoughts and images from our trip to Kumanii today:

  • the cold and fog of the mountain city of Ibarra giving way to the sun and humidity of the lowlands
  • sweeping landscapes of mountains, hills, and ravines gradually turning into tangles of lush, tropical vegetation
  • the hustle and bustle of the dock at Borbon — women chatting as they wash their laundry, meat sellers, fish sellers, fruit sellers hawking their wares, canoes loading up
  • the drone of the boat motor as we leave the commotion behind and slice through the water upriver
  • trees bending low over the river, trailing their branches in the water like fingertips
  • the refreshing and slightly tangy taste of coconut water straight from the coconut
  • little villages, wooden homes on stilts, flapping laundry flashing past
  • my boys’ happy laughter as they play with new friends Joscar and Gustavo
  • baths in the river
  • one million crickets, and a frog or two to serenade me to sleep
  • the soothing sound of a jungle downpour
  • memories of my childhood as I fall asleep under a mosquito net


On Biting Gnats and Making a Difference

After Christmas, while my parents were with us, we took them on a five-day trip to see some of Ecuador. We spent one night at Kumanii, the jungle lodge, and since the next day was Sunday, we went to church at one of the nearby villages. On the way home, we spent one night at Chachimbiro, a town famous for its termas, or hot springs. But at the beginning of the trip, we had 3 nights of family vacation time at a lovely hosteria near the mountain city of Ibarra.

The hosteria was called Paraiso Escondido (Hidden Paradise), and it was nestled at the bottom of a ravine with a river rushing through it. They had zip-lines, four-wheelers, and a big pool. All our meals were included (yay for not having to cook or clean up for 3 days!), and, as we were the only guests, we had the entire place to ourselves while we were there.

It sounds like perfection, and it would have been, had it not been for the biting gnats. Josh said he thought we must have found the gnats of the Ten Plagues fame, because they were truly awful. Their bites itched like crazy, and in my case (and my poor sons’ case), swelled to giant welts. I caught Stephen one morning using the back of a chair to scratch his back where he couldn’t quite reach — poor guy! We were using insect repellent and taking garlic pills every morning, and they just seemed to blithely ignore both of those facts and kept biting away.

As I lay there one night, unable to sleep, still itching despite having smeared myself with hydro-cortisone cream, I marveled that something so small could cause so much discomfort. It reminded me of the quote, attributed to the Dalai Lama, “If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito.” Yeah. I’ve done that before, so I totally get what he’s trying to say. But here’s the thing: I don’t think I want to “make a difference” in the same way a mosquito does (or those horrible gnats), thank you very much!