31 July 2013

The "I Miss" Mantra

We are in the final hours.  We'll head to Kinshasa via Istanbul on Friday.  It's that time where the emotions are incredibly conflicted (i.e. hysterical sobbing during Downton Abbey is not really normal) and for me, at least, it means that I just want to get on the plane. The anticipation of the countdown is grueling. Lots of folks have written about the weirdness that goes into the nomadic goodbye - maybe they can explain our issues.

LouLou at this very moment. What the what?!
(Found as we were going through old stuff for the storage space).
Can we say "regression"?

Practically, however, we have to figure out how to pack our eight crates (these are the best should you ever be in the market for what airport personnel call "missionary trunks") full of the things we thought we would *need* for another year in Kinshasa.  Rolled oats, Dr. Bronner's Magic Soap All-One, bug-proof food storage, hazelnuts, and Epi Pens have made the cut so far.  So did two boxes of macaroni and cheese.  And a ridiculously expensive candle.  Ahem.

So, while Johan does that (he likes it, weirdo), I'm thinking of the things I particularly miss about our life in Kinshasa.  Like:

1.) A routine.  They say children crave routines.  Well, so do adults.  I miss the ins and outs of our daily lives with all the people that includes - our neighbors, school friends, teachers, students, and mostly the Mamas.  I can't wait to catch up with these women whose lives intertwine with mine.  Facebook chat just doesn't cut it.

Mama Vida, LouLou, and Mama YouYou

2.) The porch.  I really love our porch. We eat breakfast out here every day.  French lessons take place here.  It's best during a rainy season downpour.

Tchic and Elias during French lessons.  (Tchic, I'm sorry I didn't email you in French like I was supposed to.)

Downpour at dusk.

2.)  Jambo Juice.  I've tried a variety of $11.99 cold-pressed-coconut-lemongrass-etcetera juices while in the States this summer.  Congolese-made Jambo Juice still wins.  Especially the lemon. Mmmm.  

Image from here.

3.) Pili pili by Mama Vida.  We're almost out of the gallon she made us to last the summer (yes, we carried hot sauce with us in our luggage).  

Hands of steel.

4.) French.  I miss French and Lingala.  I was truly sad when I heard LouLou playing in the other room with a group of dolls yesterday...speaking to them in English!  It's time to get back to a land of many languages.

5.) Dr. Laure's clinic.  There were a series of events last year that changed Dr. Laure's life and the plans Sarah and I had for regular visits to learn more about her work as an OB/GYN.  I am hopeful we will see her very soon.  I'm also eager to hear more from the doctors, nurses, and others working to build a new maternity hospital in Kinshasa.  Their work is so complicated and important.  

Construction at the maternity hospital.  June 2013.

I can't even begin to make the other list.  The list of everyone we will be leaving 7,000 miles behind for another ten months and what that means.  

So, the above five points become a mantra for the coming days.  One, two, three, four, five, and breathe.

30 July 2013

A Cup of Jo!

Have you...

...seen us on A Cup of Jo?

Thank you to Lina and Joanna for being completely lovely throughout the entire process.  We were relieved to discover that we adore A Cup of Jo even more now than before. (You know how it's super scary to meet someone you've admired from afar?  I'm always afraid that I'll be so disappointed. We can assure everyone that these two are a-okay and more.)

Keep reading each Monday for a new story of American mothers raising their families abroad!

29 July 2013

Back-to-Maternelle Shopping

We've been furiously shopping before we head back to Congo in a few days. Among our shopping is the never-ending Maternelle school supply list. Which we choose to find entertaining instead of frustrating.

Instead of wrestling my children and thinking in French in the middle of Target, I decided to write it all out ahead of time.

Take note: these 3-year-olds need 2 reams of paper, 2 packs of gouache and a 500 page notebook for parent-teacher communications. You would think from this list that we're sending them to the Little Picassos Art Academy. Hardly. Most of the time when I show up, they're rolling around on the floor with a ratty stuffed animal.

Added symbols indicate continent on which item can be found. That's not frustrating.

Also, I'm here to let everyone know that our beloved pen-makers, Bic, have an entire line of products not available in the United States. These crayons, and only these crayons, are the ones approved by our Maternelle. (We've tried substituting Crayola. The teacher laughed in my face.)

Exhibit A: The superior crayons Bic has available in every location outside the United States.

And for the first time this year we're supposed to send the girls with "baguettes." 9 of them. Now, I assume this doesn't mean each child is bringing 9 loaves of bread on the first day of school. What the French call "baguettes" are actually sticks. Does this mean chopsticks? Does this mean dowels? Are these things really available in Kinshasa? Is Adam supposed to go out back and cut some kindling? Only time will tell as I keep repeating to myself: This is not frustrating. This is a cultural experience...

But with memories like these, who can complain?

Loulou and Charlotte in last year's school photo.

27 July 2013

Friday List!

Sarah's List:

Remember our link a few weeks ago about the exorbitant cost of childbirth in the States? Well, here's another way to put it in perspective: Kate Middleton (or those paying for her birth) probably spent less on childbirth than the average American woman.

Graph from here.

And while we're discussing Kate Middleton, can we just take a moment to thank her for not hiding her postpartum belly. That's one giant step for motherkind. Love that girl. Cup of Jo expressed this wonderfully.

Here are some more beautifully honest birth photos.

Image from Jenna Shouldice here.

Remember the CTFD Method of parenting that swept the interwebs last week? Here's another take: 'Calm down': The Best Advice for Parents, or the Worst? Either way, I love it that it's the daddys running this conversation.

Calm the "F" down. That's what we're calling it over here at Mama Congo. Image censored from here.

And as we wind down our summer Stateside, we leave with one question: What the heck is going on with Cornhole and why on earth is every single social interaction revolved around it? Here are a few answers from Cornhole Galaxy, the DC Cornhole League, and from an actual journal.

Jill's List:

Did you know that in our little hometown (yes, Sarah and I come from the same Valley town), there is a Cornhole Bag store?  Oh yes.  I saw it with my own eyes yesterday.

Image from Sam's Cornhole Bags.

Can't stop thinking about this Atul Gawande piece in the most recent New Yorker.  
We yearn for frictionless, technological solutions. But people talking to people is still the way that norms and standards change.

Some of my (30+ year old) friends are convinced that this is the summer for their first tattoos. They are thinking lines, geometry, and this guy.  (I have a tattoo.  It says "kick" and is right under my right rib.  Get it?)

Image from here.
Enjoying this blog.  

From here.

Had amazing, huge, crab cakes this week in Baltimore - from this place.  On the downside, Elias said, "Hey these roads are super bumpy just like the ones in Kinshasa!"  

Thanks for the treat, Aunt Mary (on the left)!

Feeling tired.  One more week.  Wait.  Less than one week to fit a year's worth of oatmeal into our allotted checked baggage.  Panic ensues.  


23 July 2013

The Perfect Bag

This summer has been all about the perfect leather bag.

Why would Sarah and I both feel the need to make such an investment while we live in...the Congo? After all, I was in the market for a bag after my beloved T.J. Maxx yellow leather deal was slashed during my birthday visit to the Grand Marché (I'm okay, Mom. Really.)  To that bag's credit, the thief didn't get a thing.  Besides, it was my fault for bringing anything of value to one of the most voleur-ridden places in Central Africa.

Anyway, Sarah posted a few weeks ago about how she was also looking for an ideal bag and someone suggested right here on Mama Congo that she "look no further" than Mim's of Maine on Etsy.  And she didn't.

We did a little photo shoot during Elias' birthday party because everyone was going nuts for Sarah's new perfect purse.

PETITE HOBO PACK 'three in one.' Similar to this.

Sarah says: I couldn't decide if I wanted messenger or an over-the-shoulder bag. Then a small part of me kind of liked the idea of getting a backpack and I could feel totally free chasing my kids around.

Guess what! This bag can be a messenger, over-the-shoulder and it cinches up to be a backpack. You can even pick out your own size, leather and fabric for the inside.

A few more styles:

MID HOBO PACK 'three in one.' Find it here.

Tiny Sling. Find it here.

Field Messenger. Find it here.

The best part is, you can get one too!  The folks at Mim's of Maine are making it a little easier with a coupon code just for Mama Congo readers. Head on over to her Etsy shop and use the code "Travellight" for an extra 10% off.

19 July 2013

Friday List!

Sarah's List:

Most frequently asked question of the summer: "How does your family stay so white?" It's a good question. I have no answer. Equatorial sun is no match for our Irish roots. Second most asked question: "How many times have you had malaria?" Answer: Zero. Again, boring answer. This is usually when folks ask if we actually live in Congo.

Here's a Q and A with every question you could possibly have about mosquitoes. Why don't we just kill all the mosquitoes?

USDA/AP from here.

Looking for a good summer book? Have you seen the Book Seer? You just put in the last book you've finished (and presumably enjoyed) and this smart-looking guy will tell you what to read next.

From the BookSeer.com

And if you're approaching 30, or already got there. Here's a list you're supposed to check off. 30 Books I'm Glad I Read Before 30. Do you agree?

And then you can head over to Open Library for over a million free e-books.

From openlibrary.org.

Would you drink your own sweat? Or maybe someone else's. Turning sweat into water. Fascinating.

Leave it to UNICEF and the Swedes to make a sweat machine.

I swear. Your sister makes you watch The Bachelorette once and you think it's the dumbest thing you've ever seen. Then you "accidentally" watch it the next week and you're like, "OMG, who's gonna get a rose?!" Here's a great article on the ability to fall in love with someone who mistakes verbs for adjectives. "I'm like, God, You Know, Is He, Am I Not, Is That, He's Not Gonna Pick Me."

A truly grammatical moment. 

This week Charlotte had her tonsils and adenoids out. It wasn't so bad until the nurse who wheeled her away said, "Now's when the parents are allowed to cry." Turns out getting body parts removed is actually quite painful, especially when you're 3-years-old. The Sound of Music makes it a little better.

Jill's List:

What did you think about Obama's speech today about Trayvon Martin and race in America?

Image from the NYTimes.

I was totally influenced by the adorableness of the photo in the first American Mothers Around the World post and I bought Elias a Kanken for 2nd grade. (Plus, I found a great deal on a very strange color combination.)

Photo by Rebecca Zeller who is one of the moms (including us!) featured on Cup of Jo's new series.

Super interesting article about nonviolence in violent schools.

1998 image of North Philly neighborhood from The Atlantic.

Have you been watching Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee?  Four people (including Joanna) mentioned it in the past week and my husband is one of those people who insists on continuing to quote Seinfeld.  So I watched this episode...but got distracted about two-thirds of the way through the 15 minute segment.  Should I try again?

Image of Barry Marder and Jerry Seinfeld from here.

Have you ever rewarded yourself for doing something hard with a really nice, splurgy, present? My friend bought herself a pair of slamming shoes as a present to herself for birthing her third baby.  I'm buying this and this for finally taking my GREs after avoiding them for the past 10 years.  Indulgent? For sure.

Buy this at Tata Harper or Sephora.

I've been thinking a lot about what I would think if I read Mama Congo.  Does that make any sense?  Let me clarify.  What if I didn't know what it was like to live in another country and I read the things I write. Or, what if I had been born in Congo.  What would I think?  How do my thoughts come across?  I think I'm imagining/bracing for some not-so-supportive comments we may very well get on our Cup of Jo guest post in a couple of weeks...  I re-read this amazing and biting essay to check myself.  It's worth a think.

Also be sure to include a warm and motherly woman who has a rolling laugh and who is concerned for your well-being. Just call her Mama. Her children are all delinquent. These characters should buzz around your main hero, making him look good. Your hero can teach them, bathe them, feed them; he carries lots of babies and has seen Death. Your hero is you (if reportage), or a beautiful, tragic international celebrity/aristocrat who now cares for animals (if fiction).

And, speaking of Mama Vida, (sort of) she's on Facebook now!  We've been chatting with her - which is nice because this morning, Lou demanded to tell her about how a bird smacked into the window while we were eating breakfast.

And, has anyone used Milk + Moleskine to make an online photo book?  We just did!  Elias illustrated some of Boss' (the random name he created for his paternal grandfather we made for his paternal grandfather - there's a story, of course) favorite sayings and we made it into a book for G-Ma's birthday.  It turned out great and features that awesome little rubber band that is one of the best parts about Moleskine notebooks.  A sample of the illustrations we used to make the book:

What the...?  Find out here.

15 July 2013

Friday List!

Jill's List:

I would so rather be blogging away vs. doing what I've been doing with my computer time lately - studying for the GREs...  Ugh.  What a good way to ruin a summer vacation.  Today, as my family lazes by the pool and I spend more hours humiliating myself with Magoosh quantitative practice questions, I appreciate this essay.  For example:
The GREs (Graduate Record Examinations) are harder than the SATs, and about as amusing as getting mugged at an ATM. If you are good at taking standardized tests, you will probably not have a problem with the GREs. If you are bad at taking standardized tests, the GREs will be considerably more difficult. They will make you frustrated and anxious and dry-mouthed and dizzy and unreasonably furious at people who use words like "flocculent" in casual conversation.
Image from here.

A great article on Kinshasa's sapeurs, answering the question, "How do they afford those designer duds?"

Image from The Africa Report.

Duh.  That's all I have to say about this fantastic op-ed by Nicholas Kristoff.

"Can you name a miracle food that is universally available, free and can save children’s lives and maybe even make them smarter?"  Image from The NYTimes.

So much news the past couple of weeks on babies, birth, and how to do better.  Like this article on delayed cord clamping - front page of the NY Times!  And this shocking synopsis of how the steep cost of having a baby in America doesn't necessarily buy a safe birth.  Al Jazeera asks why it's still so dangerous to have a baby in Africa.  And then, there's Cedars-Sinai's "Rock and Roll" birth program.  Yep.  Read more here. (Also, I just noticed that Alice has linked to all of these.  If you are interested in maternal child health news and aren't already following her on Facebook/Twitter, you should...)

Image from "Study Finds Benefits in Delaying Severing of the Umbilical Cord", NYTimes.

Speaking of photographers...I was re-entranced by Sebastião Salgado this week.  He's been a favorite for years (thank you Aperture - a subscription my husband has stubbornly kept up for me for the past 12 years - even when we totally couldn't afford it), and his new project, "Genesis," is stunning.

Image from Paris Photo.

Hilarious and brilliant.

Image from Trendhunter.

And. Nervous about the return flight to Congo as I think after a 3 day delay getting to Phoenix this week, airports have officially lost their glamour for my little frequent flyers (or maybe that's just transference).

One benefit of all the waiting?  I discovered Humans of New York.  Like this genius quote:

“I know a thousand wise things. And I’m not going to tell you one.”  
Image and words from Humans of New York.

Johan and I were...wait for it...20 when we got married.  Super interesting write up about why it's kind of great to grow up with your spouse. (And, there's a rebuttal.)

From our super fancy "engagement pictures" series, taken on the cheap by our
then-amateur-now-uber-fancy photographer friend, Conrad.  Look how fresh faced we were!

We visited the Congo in Phoenix today.  The kids played the drums to ward off homesickness. (Seriously, the Musical Instrument Museum is world class.)

Pictures from America this weekend.

And.  Follow us on Blog Lovin'!

Sarah's List:

Did you catch the 500th episode of This American Life this week? My love for Ira Glass really cannot be measured. How This American Life Made It to 500 Episodes and What Makes a Perfect Episode.

Image by Adrianne Mathiowetz from here.

Beautiful postpartum bodies. (Link lifted from Motley Mama. Check out lots of other great links over there too.)

By Jade Beall, from here.

Man these people really have it together. The Secret to Finland's Success With Schools, Moms, Kids - And Everything. Sounds good to me!

A child in Finland being happy as usual. (Kasper/Pempel Reuters) from here.

Just got back from a week at the beach where we happened upon these great scooters. Charlotte couldn't really get the hang of a Razor or other kid friendly scooters. But these are so light and smooth and turn incredibly easy. And we got a great discount off the floor models so we got one for each kid.


And Jill and I still can't believe this happened. But here we are outside Cafe Cluny with Joanna Goddard herself and the amazing Lina Perl. The American Mothers Around the World series starts today!! Keep checking Cup of Jo every Monday for the Mama Congo post.

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