Here, There & Everywhere 2018

We have a crazy summer ahead of us.  So far, this is how it’s shaping up:

We’ll start the summer here (though it’s actually winter here):

Pretoria, South Africa

On July 1, Ellie and I will fly here:

London, England

A week later, we will meet Jason and together we will fly here:

Washington, DC

After another week, the three of us will head here:

New York City

One week later, the three of us will fly here:

Salt Lake City, Utah

Using Utah as our home base, we’ll take a short trip for Cecily’s university graduation here:

Rexburg, Idaho

And a short trip for Noah’s graduation from Basic Training here:

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

And I will spend a couple of days at a work conference here:

Boise, Idaho

In late August, after many hugs and a few tears, Jason, Ellie and I will head here:

Amsterdam, Holland

After which we will finally arrive at our new home here:

Istanbul, Turkey

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Things Missed and Things Gained

This is a recent picture of Ellie:

She’s 13 years old. Like a typical American teenager, she took this selfie on her iPhone.

When we moved overseas in 2010, Ellie was 6 years old:

Ellie has lived over half of her life outside of the U.S.  As a result, she has missed out on some things.  She has rarely ridden a bike, she has never snow skied, and she doesn’t remember American trick-or-treating.

Thanks to the proliferation of American media and the Internet, she gets a fair amount of American pop culture; however, she misses some of the nuances that are second nature to most American teens.

Someone recently gave her a Tootsie Pop that they had ordered from the U.S. on Amazon.  Ellie showed it to me and asked me what it was.  What American kid doesn’t know what a Tootsie Pop is?  I explained to her that it is a sucker with a Tootsie Roll in the middle.  She wasn’t exactly sure what a Tootsie Roll was and by my description, assumed it was regular milk chocolate.

When she was 12 years old, and we were back in the U.S. for a few weeks in the summer, Ellie showed me a dime and asked me what it was called.  I told her it was a dime and she asked me how much it was.  When I told her that a dime is 10 cents, she asked how much 10 cents is in Rand (South African currency).  Imagine, a 12 year-old American kid not knowing what a dime is!  But if a kid has had very little exposure to U.S. currency, it makes sense that she wouldn’t understand terms like quarter, dime and nickel.

So yes, Ellie has missed some things growing up overseas; but she has gained other things.  And I was reminded of one those things on Saturday.

Ellie had been wanting to have her whole grade over to our house for a pool and waterslide party.  We finally got around to planning it and about 20 middle schoolers swam, slid and ate at our house for four hours on Saturday.  As I was making food that morning before the party began, Ellie saw me slicing some salami and asked me what I was going to do with it.  I told her I was planning to put it in the pasta salad.

I loved her reply, “Mom!  You can’t put it in the pasta!  There are going to be Jewish and Muslim kids at the party!  You can’t put pork in the salad!”

Ellie has a world-view and sensitivity that she would never have gained had she stayed in Utah her whole life.  She has grown up around Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, and Muslims; Asians, Indians, Africans and Europeans.  She has often been the only American or the only Christian in a group.  And she’s comfortable in that kind of setting.

For all of the times I have been shocked at her lack of understanding of little American nuances, more often I am in awe of her global understanding. And I think it’s fair to assume that moving to Turkey 6 months from now will broaden her understanding even further.

It will be fun to watch!

The Sabbath Day

This is Ellie and her friend Jenna.  Last week these two girls were invited to represent their middle school at a swim meet in Maputo, Mozambique.  A few days before the meet, after the girls had agreed to go and we had paid all their expenses, the swimmers were told that the meet would run Friday, Saturday and Sunday and that the swimmers would be expected to compete each of the three days.

Both Jenna and Ellie come from Mormon families.  As Mormons, we believe in taking the Ten Commandments literally, and that includes the fifth commandment to remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.

As soon as the girls were told that they would be expected to swim on Sunday, they agreed together (without consulting their parents) that they wouldn’t participate in the swim meet on Sunday (remember Chariots of Fire?). And they immediately let their coaches know of their decision.  That evening was the first we parents heard that the meet would include Sunday competitions and that our girls had decided not to compete.

Ironically, when Jenna’s mom and I later talked about the situation, we both agreed that, had we been told earlier, we would not have forbidden the girls from competing on Sunday; rather, we would have let the girls make their own decisions and then honor those decisions.

The day before we left for Mozambique, the coaches put added pressure on Ellie and Jenna to compete on Sunday, but the girls held their ground and maintained their morals.  And on the final day of competition, the two girls sat, bone dry, on the benches and cheered on their teammates.

As a mom, I’m proud of my daughter’s decision.  I believe that if our kids learn to be obedient in the little things, like keeping the Sabbath day holy, then hopefully they can also be obedient in the big things.

Last week, Russell M. Nelson was called as the new prophet and leader of the Mormon church.  Back in 2015, as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, President Nelson said this: “Faith in God engenders a love for the Sabbath; faith in the Sabbath engenders a love for God. A sacred Sabbath truly is a delight.”

I believe that keeping the Sabbath day holy is one way we can show our love for God.

Kudos girls!!!

Care to Guess?

Tomorrow is the big day!  Handshakes go out and we will know our next post.  Actually, we’re 99% sure what it’s going to be, but we have to wait until tomorrow for the big reveal.

Three hints:

  1. It’s in the Northern Hemisphere; no more summer/winter mixups.
  2. It was our first choice of the possibilities presented on our bid list; and there were some really awesome possibilities on our bid list.
  3. It’s somewhere on here:

Days for Girls

Yesterday, I went with my friend Diana into the Soweto Township in Johannesburg.  Diana works for an NGO called Days for Girls.  This NGO has basically three purposes:  one is to go into less privileged areas and teach teenage girls about their bodies, feminine hygiene, menstruation, sexuality and pregnancy.  Another purpose is to provide these girls with menstruation kits that include discrete, washable, reusable hygiene pads.  The third purpose of the NGO is to provide micro-enterprise opportunities for women around the world to make and sell the kits.

Check out their website here.

According to the Days For Girls website, 1 in 10 girls in Sub-Saharan Africa, 113 million adolescent girls in India, and 30% of girls in rural Brazil will miss school this year because of the inability to handle basic menstrual hygiene.  And sadly, countless girls around the world drop out of school completely because of their inability to adequately handle their monthly cycles.

The purpose of our trip to Soweto was to teach a group of high school age girls, as well as hand out hygiene kits.  I wanted my 13-year-old daughter Elizabeth to experience one of these meetings, so we brought her, along with Diana’s 12-year-old daughter Jenna.

We met at a high school, where around 30 girls were patiently waiting for us.  Diana, a master teacher, spent about two hours in discussion with the girls.  She spoke openly about bodies, menstruation and sexuality.  And she allowed the girls to ask any questions, free from judgement or criticism.

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I don’t know too many 16 and 17-year-old girls who would sit still for two hours listening to anything, but these girls were mesmerized!!  They were so engaged in the discussion.  They could obviously sense that the information they were receiving was important and this could help to improve their quality of life.

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At one point, Diana had the girls close their eyes and hold up a green card if they knew someone who had missed school because of their periods.  Another question was whether these girls had consistent access to feminine hygiene products.  I was shocked at the number of girls who held up green cards.

Another important part of the discussion was rape.  Tragically, rape is something many of these girls will or have faced in their lives.  Before the presentation, one of the school administrators told us that many girls dropped out of school because of pregnancy, most of which are a result of rape.  Diana lovingly told the girls that if this had happened to them that it was not their fault and that their only obligation in those situations was to stay alive.  She forcefully told these girls that they were not to blame and they had no reason to feel ashamed.

After the presentation, each girl received a menstruation kit that should last about three years.  These kits are cute, ingenious and discreet.  The kits have been through 28 different versions, so the current version is an incredible product.  Their first kits were given to the girls for free and additions to the kits can be purchased for 35 rand (about $2.60).

Check out these beautiful girls holding up their kits:

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Days for Girls currently has over 1,200 teams and chapters around the world with over 50,000 volunteers in 113 countries.  Over 800,000 kits have been distributed.  They are currently running a campaign called #countHERin where they are hoping to reach 1 million kits before the end of 2017.

If you’re interested in donating or becoming involved in Days for Girls, please contact Diana at diananelson@daysforgirls.org or check out the website linked above.

And finally, just because I know it will make you smile, check out this mom and baby from Soweto:

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I told you it would make you smile.

The Last Straw

I’ve been in the US for about 2 1/2 weeks.  It’s nice to be home.

Jason and I have decided to sell our house in Utah.  We have owned this home for 13 years.  We bought it 6 years before we joined the Foreign Service.  We rented it out for 6 years with the understanding that our renters had to leave for 4-6 weeks when we came home in the summer.  It has worked well.  Our kids have loved coming back to their childhood home, sleeping in their old beds, in their old sheets; seeing their old childhood friends.  They have been able to come home and be normal American kids for a few weeks every summer.  This house has been a blessing.

But Jason and I both agree it’s time to sell.

I arrived in Utah on July 1st and I have been madly trying to get the house ready to sell.  The house officially went on the market this past Saturday with an open house.  I had been madly running around all morning, taking care of last minute details before the open house started. Everything seemed to go wrong. I was on the verge of a breakdown.  Jason was flying in from Johannesburg and just as the open house was about to begin, I had to leave to pick him up from the airport.

Then, as I went out to the car, I realized that I had a flat tire.  It was the last straw!

Just then, our dear neighbor Dave I. drove by.  He could see I was in major distress and he pulled over and stopped his car.  He didn’t ask if I was ok or what was wrong.  All he said was, “Erin, what do you need me to do?!”

It was exactly what I needed at that very moment.

I told him my tire was flat.  He told me to leave him the keys and he would take care of it.  And he did.

I was able to pick up Jason from the airport and the open house went off without a hitch.  Last night we accepted a full offer on the house.  Just before I leave to return to South Africa in a few weeks, we’ll have movers come and take all our stuff to storage.  We’re hoping to purchase a condo in the next couple of years; something with no yards that will easier to maintain from overseas.

Selling the house has been bitter-sweet.  We know it’s what we need to do, but it’s closing the door on a chapter of our lives.  A lot has happened in this house; a lot of live has been lived here.  It will be especially hard to say goodbye to neighbors; especially neighbors who, many times throughout the years have asked, “What do you need me to do?!”

This is a great neighborhood, and we will miss it dearly.