Monday, November 30, 2009


I am posting a shameless plug for the First Free winter's farmer's market on Sunday Dec 6th from 12-3pm after the church service. First Free is our fabulous home church in Chicago and is in the Andersonville neighborhood in the city. We are visiting friends in the city this weekend and will also be selling some fresh spices, dresses, jewelry, oil, lotions, scarves, and other goodies we brought back from Africa. These are some of our favorite things we can buy on our island and wanted to share them with friends and family here. We are using this as a fundraiser to cover medical costs as well as have some fun money we can spend on outings and things we could otherwise not afford while we are stateside! If you need some fresh and amazing cinnamon, cloves, cumin, nutmeg, vanilla, curry, pepper, teas, coffees, or some fun and unique gifts stop by!!

fun stuff we brought back!

not exactly as planned...

We had Thanksgiving round 2 on Sunday but not after a eventful weekend!! We were planning to have dinner together with my family on Saturday but a series of crazy and unexpected events made us push back our family celebration. First, my grandma that lives at a local retirement community fell and broke her elbow. When she fell she also dropped chili all over their carpet and was unable to get up. My sister and Mom went to the rescue and they spent all day cleaning, in the ER waiting for treatment, and then getting her settled into a bed for the night. Her elbow was very painful and the doctor said she shattered it and will now need surgery this week. Then on my Mom's way home at around 9pm she found out that my brother who had driven my mom's car downtown Chicago to show a condo had just discovered the car was broken into and his briefcase and backpack were stolen! His laptop, passport, clothes, work documents, and tons of other important stuff was gone. He had to wait for the police to show up but his phone was dying and since his charger was stolen he had no way to charge it. We felt terrible for him!! Not to mention that he then had to drive home since parking a car with no window on a city street overnight would not be good. He got home sometime after 1am and now has to replace all his belongings and get ready for a job interview he has today. After my mom got home from the hospital she was understandably stressed and I tried to listen and cheer her up. Although everything was stressful we found some things to laugh about. Namely my dad not being able to work the lights and turning on the ceiling fan fill blast and him trying on a new hunting shirt he had bought that day. The color was so bright it was actually making me nauseous!! I guess you had to be there but at least we found something to laugh about. The next day we also found out that my grandpa had fallen and my mom again had to go over and help him. We did manage to have a fabulous Thanksgiving meal on Sunday in the midst of the chaos before my sister headed back to college; a tribute to how amazing my mom is! I told my her as bad as I want this kid out I will try NOT to go into labor today since that was the last thing she needed after a stressful weekend! Perspective is needed as everyone is fine and we can cope but if you think of my family pray for my Grandma's recovery, my brother, and our sanity around here.

visiting great grandma

Saturday, November 28, 2009

bumpers & bowling!

On "Black Friday" while some brave (and nutz) people headed to the malls at ridiculously early hours the Engstrom clan decided to head to the local bowling alley. It was the first time for all the kids and we all had a great time. I pleaded 9 months prego as a handicap and played on the bumper lane with the kiddos and tragically I still did not manage to break 100! Add bowling to the list of things I pretty much sink at! Annikah loved the shoes and was really into the cheering for everyone part. The actual bowling only managed to hold her attention for about 5 frames but we still had a great last day with family in Iowa.

"I totally rocked it!!" Anni celebrates her mad 'lobbing the ball' skills
baby hand off
Jason teaches Anni Joy how to properly roll the ball
Anni and Silas show off the scores.....all the kids were beating me at this point....


We enjoyed a fabulous Thanksgiving in Iowa with Jason's family. During the prayer Jason and I both started crying as I guess it really hit us how much we do not take special times like these for granted after living far away from the cultural comforts of home and the amazing time with family. It was a blessing to be together and enjoy amazing food, crazy cousin time, and fellowship. We now are at my family's home for round 2...Yeah!
Thankful.....that is us!
Rhoda's 3 days of cooking and preparing made for a delicious meal!
Annie, Justin, & Claire
Mark, Jorie, and littlest cousin Joshua
Jim & Jason about to dig in..yummy!
Oh Yeah!!!
beats last year's bread and salad on a school day!
turkey induced semi-comma
cousin jammie party!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Iowa has a cool kid's museum...who knew?

Buy one get one free admission coupons rule and today we met Annie and Claire at the Iowa's Children's Museum for some fun on a rainy and cold day. We do not take these fabulous opportunities to enjoy things we cannot do on our island for granted and Annikah had a blast exploring and playing!

doing a little shopping at the market
art projects were a big hit!
Annikah claimed this as her house, she loved watering the flowers
"Mama, me fly this airplane to Africa"
reading a book to cousin Claire

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

my little samaki!

Another highlight of staying with Bibi and Babu in Iowa is that Babu negotiated free passes for us at their gym. I have not been able to workout because I am still feeling yucky but we have gone for family swim hours a few times and Annikah loves it. I do too since I feel so light in the water! I had to post this video of Annikah and her mad swimming skills! Living on an island pays off!

When we were there on Sunday night Anni was apparently appointed as the fashion police as she proclaimed loudly "hey, that guy that has funny pants on" when a man walked by the pool side with some tie dye swim shorts. He laughed and explained that he liked his shorts and we all had a good laugh about her loud announcement! In Africa she makes comments like this often but most people cannot understand her :) We hope to get in one more day of swimming with my little samaki (fish) before we head back to Chicagoland!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Happy Bday sweet cuz Claire!

On Saturday we got to celebrate Miss cousin Claire's big 1st Bday here in Iowa. Yet another reason it is good to be here for this time. Claire was a cake eating, tutu wearing, smiling champ and we all had a blast. Happy Birthday sweet cuz Claire!

Justin, Claire, & Annie
opening presents was a hit with the over 3 crowd.....
Anni was among the many leaping with excitement to "help" Claire open her gifts
Silas & Anni show the Bday girl some lovin'
Anni and her cousin Joshua...I love this pic mostly because Joshua is adorable and looks HUGE in the picture :) Anni's slightly bruised eye is from a preparty tumble down the stairs that involved a lot of drama and only minimal trauma (thank you God for carpet).

Sunday, November 22, 2009

bed head

the sign of a great night's sleep!

Friday, November 20, 2009

mtoto mchanga update

I continue to have weekly checks out here in Iowa to see how mtoto mchanga is doing. I hate the NST's mostly because you have to sit/lay on these really uncomfortable tables while they hook you up machines to monitor movement, heartbeat, and contractions. That coupled with the bright fluorescents in the room which make my nausea worse are not my idea of fun...argh! But I am grateful that everything is still looking good. Mtoto mchanga seems to be growing, moving, and still hanging out. Also, at the last high risk ultrasound we got to see her in 3D!! I had only heard about these pictures but they are crazy. She was not cooperating to get a full face shot but these below are pretty amazing! Also, the doctor said she made up some of the lag in her growth so now there seems to only be a 1 week discrepancy between her abdomen and the rest of her body. Maybe she likes American food! I am also put on 2 pounds in 1 week and although I had a really bad day of throwing up yesterday most days are much better with only periods of puking. Less than 4 weeks to go...I hope! We are praying for a pre-Christmas baby!

her hands grabbing her toes

"fight the man" hand :)

mtoto mchanga's lil face with her hand in front
We are waiting for your arrival little girl!!

Thursday, November 19, 2009


means nonsense in Kiswahili
& that pretty much sums it up

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

30 is the new 19

After announcing my arrival in the 30's...the third decade of my life on facebook many well wishers offered birthday greetings but my favorite was a friend who pointed out that 30 was the new 19. Must be true with all the obsession about looking young here...Geez! Kinda weird as we now live in a culture where being an elder means you even get your own respectful is a good thing to get older. Nonetheless, it made me laugh and I had a birthday celebrating that 30 while being back stateside and celebrating with family and my husband is indeed the new awesome!!

On Thursday night the girls from Jason's family took me out to dinner at a fab restaurant here in Cedar Rapids. From the outside it was not much to write home about (I think it was an old Denny's er something) but the inside was very funky and the food was fabulous! Although I puked before we left I was able to eat my meal and thoroughly enjoyed it! After dinner they drove us into a parking lot and announced that we were getting mani/pedi's on them! SO fabulous!! That best part was that the night before I had finally taken off the scroungy remnants of nail polish on my toes and redid them (not an easy task when you are 9 months preggers) because I had had a dream that I went into labor and as I was starring at my toes pushing the baby out they were Nas Tay. I needed to remedy the situation fast but little did I know all my hard but sloppy work would be scrubbed off the next day. At least now I am ready with cute toes. It was an awesome ladies night out...thanks girls!

The Engstrom clan ladies
mani's & ped's...what a special treat! Thanks ladies!!

On Friday night I slept over at Annie's place in Iowa City because I was selling African goodies (spices, scarves, etc) at a party her friends had and after waking up with no kiddos (both our hubbies had Claire and Anni back in CR) we enjoyed breakfast. Jason and Annikah called me and both sang Happy Birthday to me. It was one of those moments I know my life is good, like really good. I have a thoughtful and loving husband and beautiful and sweet daughter. After the boys and kiddos showed up we headed to the mall near their house to wait in an ubber long line to receive our FREE 10 dollar gift cards for the mall (Annie has a friend who sent us an email to get gift cards that day). We really had nothing better to do and it was cold outside so we chatted and waited and after getting out gift cards got lunch at Chik-Fil-A. I developed a loving relationship with the hormone injected yumminess when I lived in Atlanta and it was prefect for lunch on my Bday. Anni was a big fan as well. We even got free shakes since we live and work in Africa!!
free shakes at in Africa has its perks!
After play time in the kid's area and me spending my gift card (I got 3 shirts I can wear in Africa plus 2 for friends there for only 6 bucks at Old Navy...Holla!) we headed back to Cedar Rapids. That night Jason's parents watched Anni (thanks!) so Jason and I could go on a REAL date! We tried to figure out the last time we had had time alone like that and I think it was over a year ago so we were giddy. We actually went to the same place the girls and I had gone on Thursday becuase I knew Jason would like the food and atmosphere plus we had a coupon :). We talked, we laughed, we planned a bit,....we had a fabulous date for my 30th Bday! I am blessed.
check us out...on a real date..and sitting in a swanky lounge!
the free Bday treat at the end of the meal...
apparently they thought I was eating for 6!!!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

an overshare

Annikah announced to Babu (Jason's dad) this week

"Babu, Mama gonna have a baby out of her vagina and she have to put her legs like this (she then proceeded to spread her legs far apart)"

Ok, maybe no more letting her watch A Baby Story reruns with me on TLC.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

the importance of shoes in the bathroom...

Where we live almost everyone that has a bathroom has a pair of shoes that sit just outside it. Even in public places a pair of worn flip type shoes are placed there. When I first arrived I never understood why these shoes were there and in many occasions they seemed dirty, ok nasty. I just walked past them, held my breath, and tried not to pee on my legs while using the choo. Like many things that are different, over time I had enough language and gumption to ask about some of these things. Before we left we had a friend of Jason's come over for dinner and he had removed his shoes, as is custom, before entering our home. Before dinner he needed to use our bathroom but seemed confused as he searched around a bit. Jason realized why......He was looking for the shoes! Locals use these pairs of shoes to enter a bathroom since it is not the cleanest of places and they expect that a pair be ready and waiting in every home for just that purpose. They are communal bathroom shoes. We were a bit embarrassed we did not have any and the next day I made sure we bought a pair and placed them in our bathroom. As I bought them I thought about how much I have changed in just a year and a half. Even though we have no need for these shoes they are necessary in this culture. It was not putting the shoes there but seeing the need for them to be there that made me realize my thinking, my ideas of what are important, and my identity has changed.

I have learned many things about culture, about people, about myself, about what really matters in the last year and a half. I consider these things gifts God has given me in living in a place so different from my normal, from my comfortable, from my known. Now that we are "back" for a bit I sense the in-betweenness people always told me I would feel in coming back to a place that while is so familiar is so changed for me personally now. Reflecting on the last year and a half has been hard since I am brain dead prego and we are feeling a bit scattered as a family but I could not sleep without recording some thoughts after praying last night. not cohesive but here goes...

Journeys are what life is about. Those journeys do not have to physically take you to a remote location but they should change you, move you, touch you, remind you, center you, teach you. Over the last year and a half I have learned a lot, grown a lot, been stretched a lot. Some of our and my experiences I would never chose to repeat and some were amazing but all were valuable, all were refining, all were needed.

When we first arrived to our island I knew my life would change. I knew I would wear different clothes, speak a different language, learn to cook and live a different way but what I thoroughly underestimated was how much my identity would be altered. Like the journey of having a child you can read up on it, watch others go through it, but nothing really prepares you to be a Mama except having that little child entrusted to you. You just don't know how it will feel until you are emerged in it. Back here in the states my role was more clear to me; within my marriage, my circle of friends, my church, my family, my job. And I was pretty good (most days) at strategizing, planning, generating ideas, keeping busy, tackling everything needed to keep our home running, and being me. The question came many times over the last year and a half...Who am I now? Who did I need to become to identify with the women around me? Cultural immersion is a buzz word discussed among those who seek to live outside their home culture for whatever reason. Much discussion and research has been done about it but I did not take into account the emotional pain of immersion. Pulling off some of my Western-ness and putting on some local ways was and is hard. Everything was so unfamiliar and you have to let go of a lot of yourself, of your way of doing things, and that takes a toll. I cried many times feeling all of that which defined my life in Chicago was suddenly gone. I had to face sides of myself I was not sure I liked. And to be honest I did not like some of the ways I had to change.

Adjustment never feels great. It is wrenching, uncomfortable, and requires patience with yourself. Much of the last year and a half I have felt in limbo, in this middle ground and in those difficulties it was as if God has said to me "Well, you could die to yourself. You could learn to trust that I know what you need better than you. You could choose to be transformed." God is showing me I do not need to worry about who I am becoming or what my identity was since so much of that was rooted in things outside myself or of the temporal, material, or circumstantial. What I need is to keep plugging away for Him, and however flawed my ways are, seek to keep learning and growing. And there is Grace. And yes, over the last year and a half my identity has changed a lot but it is worth it. Many of the things I first saw as burdens in living there (think scraping coconuts, wearing all you can eat dresses, sitting for hours at events) have become part of me and I even enjoy them.

I have grown in seeing my life in a new way as related to the greater world community. I have seen my sufferings and complaints in perspective and although I wish that made me whine less (work in progress:) I know that I am among the privileged few. I am wealthy in so many ways, most of which have nothing to do with money. Most of the world's women spend their lives in manual labor seeking to provide for their families. Many women have few of the choices I take for granted everyday. God has taught me that He did not send me here to call these women to a life like mine, or a more comfortable Western life but a life of joyful abundance, a life promised to those that know peace through Jesus. And many times I need to be reminded of that joy. Even though the church preaches "you are not the center of the world" so much of Western society is catered to 'having it your way' and to swim against that stream is hard. Living where we live we have had to get used to inconvenience. And the biggest lesson God has had for me in the midst of that is that He is more concerned with my response to those situations then with having things work out the way I think they should. Peace is often a choice. This peace is offered despite circumstances and often those with the most privileges and material things miss out on that abundance because we, like me, cloud our thinking by focusing on difficulties, on things not being exactly as we planned, or different than we expect.
My way is not the best way. God's way is.

here are a few other thoughts.....
It is hard to be an outsider. Really Hard. You feel stupid most of the time and it means everything when insiders come alongside you and helps you understand the whys and the hows.

Community matters and figuring out everything independently is not always the best way. When we can be open, vulnerable, and allow others in we can grow a lot. Especially those we thought we were there "to help."

To feel dumb and powerless can be the start of a rebuilding in your soul and really stripping down your identity to what really matters.

Kids are kids everywhere and they can make friends regardless of language or culture.

Most barriers to understanding others are self constructed walls.

Interruptions can be amazing opportunities. Don't waste them.

Sometimes taking the time to ask questions is more important than always understanding the answers.
So Jesus, I want to To Be Open to Change. To Your reforming, remolding, and rebirth process in my life. Help me embrace what is from You and throw off that which is not and run the race with endurance. Amen.

Shoes in my bathroom may just be a small part of transforming who I am, the way I think, and becoming more of who I should seek to be.....

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

first haircut

Annikah experienced an exciting first yesterday....her first haircut!! She was a baldy until she was 2 and in Africa the humidity keeps her hair super curly and out of her face but as she observed she does indeed have "new hair here" and it is constantly unruly and in her face. This coupled with Jorie's offer to join her and her boys on a haircut adventure made us decide to cut some bangs for her. The hair stylist was fabulous with kids and even had a little lion they sit on as well as offering a movie of their choice to watch while she cuts and styles their hair. So for 5 bucks Miss Anni had her first ever haircut and she did great! The lion chair and Tinkerbell movie helped and the stylist also asked her if she could do her hair "like a princess." Are you kidding? Anni was all about it and the results were pretty adorable.

getting ready for the big cut
Joel & Silas help pick out beads for Anni's hair (the boys got colored hair gel:)
"Princess 'do"...complete with glitter, beads, and curls

another cute pic of Anni's physical this AM...she loved this little hospital gown she called a doctor dress. She wasn't so crazy about the flu shot though!

Monday, November 9, 2009

impromptu photo session

On Sunday after attending Jason's parents church we had an impromptu picnic at a park here is Cedar Rapids with Jason's parents and his sister Jorie's family. We are enjoying every day of this fabulous weather with leaves blowing and sun shining as we know winter in looming. After some sandwiches, plenty of playground time, and playing catch we took some family pictures. Jason calls these my "pretending to like being pregnant" pictures but at least we have some pictures to record our family as we await mtoto mchanga's arrival. Less than 6 weeks away! Thanks Jorie for the great idea of getting some nice photos! The funniest part was Jason's dad throwing leaves at us to give the photos the "Hollywood" feel. Only problem was we could not stop laughing. Here is some of our favorites from the day.....

Anni & Babu

cousin love

Bibi & Babu
Dillman fam.....they have three boys!!

34 weeks

trying to get a family photo with a hyper kid

Babu creates the leaf blowing effect