Friday, August 15, 2014


I've been reading about moms who put away all of their kids' toys, out of reach, inaccessible, and let their kids choose 1 thing or 1 crate of toys to play with at a time. While I think it's a great idea, it was never something I wanted to do. I thought I would miss letting my boys exercise creativity in combining toys from different categories: puzzles become roads, Legos become action figure accessories (usually "fighting things" aka weapons), trains and cars and Lego towers come together in a huge city. They also don't have a lot of toys (from an American perspective - from a Kenyan perspective, it's Toy's 'R' Us in here).

Then Ben hit this phase that I describe as Destructive 2 Year Old. When Nate was in this phase, we lived in a 2-story house and had fewer toys. He had a small basket of living room toys for downstairs and only slightly more upstairs toys. He sure did dump out his living room toy basket every chance he got, but it was only 1 basket of toys. Very manageable, and I didn't mind having him clean up only at the end of each day. Ben, however, has access to their full toy collection. Most things are sorted by type and put away in small baskets, which sort of stack in the bottom of their closet/built-in wardrobe dealy. Here's how our days have been going:

I go into my bedroom to check on the washing machine. I come back into the living room to find Ben has dumped 2 baskets of toys out on the floor. And he's playing with no toys but a piece of cardboard that was destined for the trash. He is required to clean up. It's a fight. We talk about what he wants to do. He asks for crayons and a coloring book. I deliver. I take the laundry outside to hang it up to dry. I come back into the living room. Ben has dumped out 2 baskets of toys in the living room and 1 in the hall. The crayons are nowhere to be found. He's playing with nothing at all, but pretending to fall off the couch. He is required to clean up. It's a fight. We take the baskets back to the bedroom, only to find that their outside toys have been dumped and spread all over the bedroom. He is required to clean up. It's a fight. It's now 10 am.

I can't cope with tripping over, stepping on, and wading through toys all day long. And I have no energy for the same clean up fight every 45 minutes. What we need is a manageable amount of toys that can be cleaned up only once a day.

Where the toys used to be: now just a basket for stuffed animals (which are currently all over the house) and a shoe box of costumes. 

I took the plunge a week ago and put all of their toys up on the top shelf in their room. They can keep all of their stuffed animals because these neither trip me nor hurt when I step on them. With everything else, they have to choose 1 container at a time to play with. I allow them to change what they're playing with during the day, and it's not such a fight to clean up because it's a very small mess. Plus, cleaning up means they can play with something else.

Where the toys are now.

Nate can reach the toy shelf with a step stool. However, he knows the rules and is very responsible. He can't quite put the toys away, but he can get new things down. He put the costume box "away" in the first picture, so he could get out the action figure box. I fully intend to give them access to all of their toys at the same time again. But first, we have to get through Destructive 2 Year Old (which very well may cross over into Destructive 3 Year Old).

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

coping with frequent power outages

I feel I've blogged at length about how we combat the unreliable water supply  and about how sometimes we win and sometimes we lose. Especially in Kilifi, water is a huge challenge.

Our tiny freezer, stocked with ice pops, spare coffee,
a small container of bone broth, and a bag of chicken bones
But living with unpredictable electricity is a challenge, too. We have a small refrigerator, by American standards. With the exception of the micro-fridge in my college dorm room, it is the smallest refrigerator I've ever had. And it's rarely full.

It took us a few months to adjust our grocery habits to unreliable refrigeration. We lost fridge-fuls of food due to power being out for too long, and have saved some by moving everything to the freezer and driving all over town to find a bag of ice to keep it all cold. Now, we're usually ok if the power is out for a whole day, but it's because of our changed shopping habits. We have not yet acquired solar backup for the fridge. It will be a momentous day when that happens! I'd be able to keep the fridge stocked like I used to!

Obviously, we can't use the microwave when the power is out, but our stove is gas and lights with a match, so I can cook without power, as long as I can see! We keep flashlights in every room of the house, in case it is already dark when the power goes out. We don't have to stumble through the whole house searching in the dark. And we also had a solar powered lantern, which could light up a room.

But it broke.

When we went to replace it, we tried to find a solar lantern with a USB plug in it so that I could also charge my phone from it. Rodgers usually has the car during the day, so he can always charge his phone there, but my only option is to hope that the laptop battery is fully charged and drain it into my phone.

We looked at various options and settled on something way more awesome than we were shopping for. We haven't mounted the solar panel yet, it just sits on the edge of the veranda for now, with the cord going through a window (always open anyway).

The battery is slightly smaller than a riding lawn mower battery. It has a USB plug, and I was able to charge my phone with it the last time we had no power during the day. We haven't lost power at night since we bought it, so we haven't tested the lights yet. (We could just turn off the lights one evening and test them, but we haven't done that either.) There are 4 lights with long cords. We can keep the battery in the middle of the house and mount lights in 4 different rooms! It also came with all manner of plug converters. How does your cell phone plug in? I bet I have a converter for that. I can also plug in a car charger. I can plug almost anything into this battery, except for actual electric plugs.

I think we'd need a bigger battery for the fridge anyway. Next on the solar power list: bigger battery and bigger solar panel so that I can plug in the fridge. After that maybe a solar water heater...

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

oblivious to culture

Here's an interesting (and possibly infuriating) aspect about culture. Some communication and customs are very obviously culture-specific, but some exist at such a subconscious level that we can't really identify what they are in our own cultures.

In Kenya, there are separate greetings for people who are above you on the social hierarchy, people who are your equals, and people who are below you. In some cases, it's obvious who is who: a child is below me, an elderly person is above me. But in some cases it's not that clear to an outsider.

Me, trying to learn some conscious culture - how to make pilau

We went to have lunch at our friend's house. We didn't know who would be there apart from us, the friend, and her daughter, but there are always other family members around. Also, this friend is of a socio-economic status that it is safe to assume she has house help. (Here, you don't have to be outrageously wealthy to have a housekeeper who works every day or even lives with you.)

When we arrived, there were several people around the house - a few young men (probably her younger brothers or nephews) and a woman working in the kitchen. The woman was neither young nor old. To me, she could have been anyone - sister, cousin, aunt, housekeeper? To Rodgers, it was obvious who she was.

Everyone greeted us, shaking hands and saying whatever greeting was appropriate. Kenyans are compulsive about their greetings. An aside: if you don't greet someone, it's extremely rude, yet when you greet someone, it's not because you intend to have a conversation with them or even care what they say (the response is the same regardless of their circumstances), it's because it's required by custom to say a certain greeting and receive a certain reply. I don't really "get" the obsession with greetings, especially the super long ones they exchange in their native language. But I digress...

The woman came out of the kitchen to greet us, and she wouldn't let go of my hand after I greeted her, as if she was expecting more. Eventually she said the respectful greeting to me, which I didn't find appropriate at all, so I asked if she was saying that to me.

She said (in English), "No, you say it to me!"

I was totally confused. Who was this woman demanding I greet her with the respectful greeting and why?! I thought it would be rude to ask, "Why? Who are you?" But I was so embarrassed that I was frozen like a deer in headlights - I couldn't say anything.

Rodgers knew, intuitively, that this was our friend's mother. He had never met her before. She was not introduced. (While Kenyans love introducing themselves to large groups as they are giving a speech, when meeting you they expect you to know who they are and don't introduce themselves or other people.) And yet, he knew who she was. He couldn't explain to me how he knew this.

I told him that he's going to have to start cluing me in because I don't have this subconscious knowledge of his culture, and though he has it, he is oblivious to it. I have noticed other subconscious knowledge, communication, and practices in this and other cultures, so I assume there must be something like this in my culture, but whatever it is, I must also be oblivious.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

trunki review

I wasn't sure I wanted to spend almost $100 on carry-on luggage for 2 boys, but it turned out so very, very worth it.

Since the boys are getting bigger now, we decided to simplify our trip to and from Texas by losing the stroller. We took it to Texas with us this time, with the intention of leaving it, though we didn't know with what it would be replaced (because, hello, our boys are still very young) until we saw one of these in Amsterdam. And my mind was made up.

Each Trunki was $40, plus we got saddlebags for them, which were $12-15.

orange for Ben, red for Nate
They hold plenty. We packed each with 1 spare outfit, 1 sweatshirt, snacks to last 30 hours, a stack of sticker sheets/paper/activity books, a water bottle (empty to go through security), and several favorite toys. They were not full. If we didn't all pack in 1 suitcase when we go on family trips, the boys could easily use them as suitcases for a few nights away.

Some of the reviews complained about the latches. We didn't have problems with the latches at all. They stayed closed and have little locks on them to reinforce the latch (though it's not a security kind of lock - the key is attached to the shoulder strap).

The saddlebag doesn't hold much. We packed just those things that I thought the boys would want in the seatback pocket (where they fit very well) - fruit snacks for takeoff, TMNT grab bag activity packs for landing and/or turbulence because there's nothing worse than "Fasten Seatbelts" light and your kids have nothing to do. The saddlebags fit on top of the trunkis, with a buckle strap that wraps all the way around.

I thought the boys might have a hard time keeping their feet up while riding on the trunki because they don't have footrests. But they didn't seem to mind. You're only walking through the airport for a few minutes at a time, after all. We spend more time standing in line anyway - and that's really when the boys need to be contained! We stand in line to check our bags, go through security 4 times, board 3 flights, do baggage claim twice, go through immigration, and go through customs.

waiting to check our luggage in Houston

Rodgers clipped Ben to his belt loop for a while

We pulled the boys behind us, they rode and pushed with their feet, we used the leash as a shoulder strap and let the boys walk, and they took turns pulling each other around. When we were pulling them, we were able to walk much faster than I expected - I was able to go my normal "airport pace." The only hard part was navigating the crowds without running someone over with the trunki, also not crashing the kid into a sign or something and turning without tipping him over. It didn't take too long to get the hang of steering, though.

Nate pushing with his feet

Nate pulling Ben before we boarded our first flight

By nature of being a multicultural family with adorable (and usually loud) boys, we attract attention everywhere we go, but this trip we got some extra attention. Everyone thought the trunkis were super awesome, and I think a few of the grown ups were jealous that they don't come in an adult size - especially standing in all of those lines.

Ben riding around Mombasa baggage claim in the middle of the night - we made it at last!
I very much recommend a trunki if you fly with your kids, ages 3 and up. (Ben's not quite 3 yet, but close enough.)

Monday, March 31, 2014

heat rash March

(Now that March is nearly over...)

We moved to Kenya in March. March is the hottest month of the year in coastal Kenya. It was brutal. Nate, Ben, and I all had heat rash until the weather cooled. I thought it was malaria-prophylaxis-induced skin sensitivity, until we all got it again the following March, when we weren't taking anti-malarials. And we have it again this year.

Internet advice about treating heat rash assumes it's not ongoing. "If you get a heat rash, go back into the air conditioning, drink some water, and take a shower." Wouldn't that be nice?

So I'm kind of bumbling along to find a treatment by trial and error, for the 4-6 weeks that we have it each year. By the end of March, I have to wonder whether my current protocol is working or whether the rash is getting better because the weather is starting to cool (just a tiny bit).

Most of my experiments are on Nate because his rash is the worst. Ben's and mine go away overnight almost every day. Nate's persists. It is mostly on his trunk, but also a little on his legs and face. His face looks the worst because he scratches it all day long. I think his is the worst because Ben and I have fans blowing on us all day, and Nate's classroom is stuffy. And they play outside in the heat of the day. When he's home over the weekend, he usually improves a lot.

My advice, at year 3 of heat rash:

  1. Limit outdoor (or "away from the fan") activities to before 10 am and after 4 pm. Stay out of the sun.
  2. If you get really sweaty, change clothes.
  3. If you are under 7 years of age, you can probably go without clothes for the most part. We call it "undies time."
  4. Add baking soda to your bath. Bathe (or wash the area that is rashy at least) more than once a day.
  5. Apply aloe to the rash. We have a cooling aloe that's for sun burn, but it is also very soothing to heat rash.
  6. Drink water.
  7. Take an antihistamine.
I'm not sure how much the antihistamine is helping. I think Benadryl would be the best, but Nate would only be able to take it at night, and he cools off overnight (with a dedicated oscillating fan targeting his bed), so the rash doesn't really bother him then.

We found a cream today that we will add to our trial and error, which contains an antihistamine, calamine, and an anti-inflammatory. 

I am looking for 2 products: a water-based lotion which contains colloidal oatmeal and Magicool Plus, which is a cooling and anti-itch spray specifically for heat rash. If I ever find those in this country, I will save them for next March to test out.

I wish we could prevent it entirely - or at least prevent it from becoming so miserable - but I think Nate will have to be older and start treating it himself.