Thursday, December 27, 2012

Help me summit... - from John

Thirty-one days from today, I (John) hope to be standing atop Kilimanjaro--the tallest mountain in Africa.   The week long trek to the 19,000-ft. summit is beginning to loom before me with both excitement and a healthy bit of respect.  Prone to altitude sickness at even the lower elevations of Colorados fourteeners, I am working hard running hills and the like to train and prepare for this adventure. Physical conditioning, a little medication, and a whole lot of prayer are what I am relying on.  
The goal is not the summit alone, but for me and my fellow climbers to raise $50,000. This money goes to eMi East Africa for consturction of a drastically improved facility to meet key objectives - R&D for sustainable technologies indigenous to East Africa, training facilities for East African professionals and tradesmen, and increased Design and CM infrastructure for designing a world of hope for the materially and spiritually poor. I am truly very impressed by the benefits of this opportunity and the incredible value of every dollar invested-- so much so that I am personally contributing $500 toward the goal (in addition to covering all my climbing costs).  
I am looking for another 30 people to give $100 or more.   If you're interested, consider helping me reach my goal by making a contribution or by learning more about this opportunity and others to invest in the work being done here in East Africa.

Strange, full, unexpected, and blessed.

Christmas 2012: Soccer in the driveway, wearing their gifts.
Scrolling through Facebook yesterday brought a bit of sadness, glimpsing all those photos of a white Christmas in Little Rock, of all places. I'd prayed for that so many times for my kids. Well, and myself. But God was good: A few minutes later, I was playing Christmas music while I spread mayo for sandwiches. Some old lyrics belted out: Haul out the holly/ Put up the tree before my spirit falls again... And I realized, that was why I wanted to be there, enjoying the snow (not to mention the family!). I longed for the emotion of that Christmas sparkle; the cozy magic that, with all the right elements, seems to frost everything with a little light and togetherness. There's a very good place and reason for my longing, which recalls our built-in cravings for Heaven. I would have called it Christmas spirit, and in ways, it is. But this Christmas was more in the Christmas spirit than I could have hoped for, even though the weather was decidedly a breezy 75 or so.

Our December 25 was actually one of the best, but not in the ways we'd expect. You've probably gathered one of our favorite aspects of living here: there are so many opportunities to do good everywhere you look--you know, that "harvest is plentiful" thing. It feels like opportunities to give and serve and welcome people are just hanging around, like ripe fruit waiting to be plucked. It keeps pushing us out of our comfort zone and into our community. My sister and her husband, in Thailand--along with my parents as they're visiting--captured this with their own community Christmas shindig that, well, surpassed their expectations in size. (After this year, I deeply empathize with her sentiment of "plans schmans.")
But back to our own less-expected Christmas. Oliver spent Christmas Eve night and Christmas Day with us this year; fitting, because she is such a member of our family now. She had not had presents to speak of since her mother passed over ten years ago, so it was positively delightful to see her rave over her gifts and her stocking. I think we've definitely found a "love language" here! Another unexpected friend shared dinner and our game night with friends. John carried out a Christmas-y little plan, complete with Christmas dinner, for the eMi guards who couldn't return to their villages for Christmas. They were thanking him so profusely. Seeing John here with his gift of giving continues to amaze me. It seems he’s always got some idea to be generous in ways that really encourage people.
So our Christmas was less our traditional day together, and still more Christmas than we'd planned! Which was really cool. Especially since the next day was one of our first days in Uganda to be alone as a family, and the weather was beautiful for us to play new board games, watch The Nativity, and relax together.
I'm looking forward to what we hope will be next Christmas in the States, surrounded by the people we would love to smother with hugs. But all in all, our first African Christmas was like a lot of our first year: strange, full in every sense of the word, unexpected, and blessed.


Monday, December 24, 2012

Last-minute stocking stuffer: Quality-time coupons

I mentioned that we’re trying to keep things simpler here for Christmas this year. I think that’s why I got so excited the other night, washing the dishes. I was thinking when I could schedule the ice cream date that my five-year-old had been asking for with those big brown eyes, and always that dimple on her cheek.

What if my husband and I gave our kids personalized coupon books—but for quality time with us?

We try to spend quality time with them anyway. But the advantages of a coupon book are so many: They can see that we want to spend time with them, and that we’re willing to be held accountable for our word. They feel a bit of control—still with the understanding that they’d need to schedule their “coupon time”—to do the activities they’d been craving. And it definitely creates a sense of excitement around our relationship.

So my husband, a Word document, and myself are going to town on this project. We’re not in a place we can go camping yet (and well, home can be rustic enough at this point)—but we’ll put things in like game nights, making their favorite dessert, soccer in the driveway, a date with Dad, and visiting the new local coffee shop they’ve been wanting to try out with us.

I’m geared up about a Christmas gift that invests in our relationship. Wanna try it with me?

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Rewrapping Christmas

It's beginning to look a lot like...

Well. Not completely.

Things are so different here at Christmas time. Many people can't afford much in the way of presents, much less decorations. Simplifying and purposefully celebrating have required a few gymnastics--but also some good meditation. My thoughts on "rewrapping" our Christmas here posted today on MomLifeToday's blog.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Photo tour: Let's take a drive

While my father-in-law was visiting, we took a trip to northern Uganda. But he also pulled out his camera here in Kampala, simply shooting from his hip (literally--with the camera on his thigh, so he wouldn't offend).
The result, for me, had the benefit of capturing a little of what the streets are like here. Some of them capture the riot of color that is everywhere, or the orangeness of the dirt and all it covers, or the choas, or how function almost always surpasses form.
These may not seem to have particular subjects; maybe they'll feel too random to some. But hopefully you'll get another little snapshot of our world here. I'll add a few captions here and there for commentary.

The large sack in front here is likely charcoal for the charcoal stove, or "segirit." Charcoal is brought in from the villages because people can't get firewood easily in the city.  (Gas or electric stoves are not an affordable option for most of the city.) Unfortunately, making charcoal causes a great deal of deforestation, resulting in lack of firewood, produce, and mudslides that affect the poor very directly and immediately.

This is a "Boda Stage"--a place for "staging" the waiting motorcycle taxis. "Boda boda" is a corruption of the English words "Border to Border." They are less affordable than the fifteen-passenger van taxis (matatus), but still within reach of most locals for occasional use. Both forms of taxi can be fairly dangerous to other drivers--! I'd estimate that less than 40% of drivers wear helmets, and hardly any riders. See photo below.  
Remember Ggaba Road, where they make the furniture? A lot of this is left out in the rain, but no big deal. From what we've seen, it's often stuffed with old clothes and foam mattresses. It's also a lot less comfortable than it looks...

People definitely carry things on their heads here, just like they do in the pictures.

See the bike on the right? The loads on bikes and bodas continue to fascinate me. See photo below.

There are a lot of longhorn cattle along the road, along with other animals. One of my friends got a horn in his window--! Sometimes they're just ambling down the road with a rope on their neck and no owner in sight; sometimes they're just grazing right on the shoulder; other times they're being prodded by a guy with a long stick.

The yellow cans are known as "jerry cans", useful for hauling water since most people don't have running water in their homes. The cans are also used for petrol (i.e. gasoline) or for whatever else they're needed. And see the smoke? To me, Kampala smells like charcoal stoves, burning trash, and exhaust.



This photo and the next are of a market; you can see the stacks of produce, as well as the mound of matooke (the local staple, which is a form of very starchy banana that tastes a bit like a potato) on which the man is sitting.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

More Family Life in Photo

I suppose posts like this are an effort to bypass that pesky plane ticket issue and walk you around our lives a little. If I did this, you would probably see on my face the effort it took to remain calm--not get overly excited--and how I had to deliberately try not to talk too much in my enthusiasm. So I think captions are a good compromise, don't you? (My father-in-law gets the credit on many of these photos!)
I call this one "Waiting on Dad". J. is wearing the new Uganda Cranes--the national football (soccer) team--uniform  that Grandma and Grandpa got him at the craft market, which he wears every time it is clean. And sometimes when it is not. One of the best parts of my in-law's visit were two all-family soccer games, our guard included. J. refused to play until Dad showed up.
A lot of J.'s personality can be summed up in this single kick. See the dust?

I forget which of our children John was caught up in imitating. But this photo captures a great aspect his relationship with his dad.

Yup, this is my "girl with brothers". "Yes, as a matter of fact, I do play soccer in the leotard I got when I saw the Nutcracker."

One of our guards, Julius--who my middle son just invited to come to his birthday. You can see how much fun this guy's having.
The purpose of this photo is pretty much to capture the lizard-like tongue. It is one of his favorite features.

John's parents' visit was one of the greatest blessings of our year. We thought of putting them in a cage to keep them here. But that seemed over the top.
Wrestling is a requirement for all Breitenstein children. Girls not excepted.


Because of the errands he runs with the guards and Oliver and his absolutely sparkling personality, J. is known all the way down the street we live on. All the guards ask about him. He cannot wait for the weekends, which he refers to as "guard days". Our kids often help the guards cook food for themselves (or eat it). They love this kid; he's the one they ask about whenever they see us on the road. Because Ugandans often refer to me by either my oldest child or the child they know best, to many I am "Mama J." The guards run him around our driveway on his bike, and have footraces around the house. I love this about our lives right now. 

J. with another guard, Wilson, who is teaching him to use a slingshot. ...Yeah, now that I think about it, that may be a bad idea.

On this day, he was an astronaut.

The poster reads, "Welcome to Africa, Grandpa and Grandma!" (It's still up, even though they left on Thanksgiving.)


Same leotard. This time, with a gun.

Our lovely Oliver. I have determined this woman saves my life in at least thirteen little ways every day.

Did you know that virtually everything smaller than a cereal box in my house has the potential to be a gun? I remember a friend saying that she forbid her son to have or play with any pretend guns. Well, until the day he chewed his toast into the shape of, yes, a gun. I figure if my boys were living in any previous century, they may have brought home their first kill by now. So. Hands up already.

Is it too much information that we are more in love than ever? ...Well. Hope not.

J. is our "carpe diem" child in every sense of the word. He has his grandpa and mother's "I'm all in--with whatever I do!" a three-year-old-boy's body. Watch out, world. People say that they could watch him all day. One of our friends says it's like watching a cartoon, with his million expressions! I concur. I love this photo of him in a village; he was the first, of course, to dive in. See next photo, taken after his swimming lesson.