warm welcomes in south asia

In the last two and a half weeks, I have visited communities in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and India. South Asia is a new discovery for me, and it has been rich with flavors, smells, textures, colors, and all-around beauty.

I have been welcomed so warmly in each location, and I wish I could have spent longer to share stories, particularly with the women I met. These warm welcomes have included flowers, drinks, and food. One of the new things for me has been being greeted with flowers – single flowers, small bouquets, garlands, and flower petals (tossed both on and at my head). I love the beauty. In homes, I was regularly greeted with sugary tea made fresh when we showed up at their door, and a few times, with fresh coconut water. At my last stop of the trip, Jyotshna decided to not only make tea, but suddenly sweet dough was being fried up as well for a warm and yummy treat.

It has been fun to be welcomed so openly and with such warmth. It has made me think about how I choose to welcome visitors who show up at my door – both the expected and unexpected. I hope I exhibit some of the warmth that I felt on this trip.

Here is a little photo journey of some of those welcomes.

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My first flower garland… in Sri Lanka.

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These flowers were on a table, but similar ones were tossed at me as well.

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Coconut water: sometimes in the coconut, sometimes poured into a glass.

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May the sugary tea commence, sometimes in beautiful tea cups.

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Green papaya fresh from the garden, served with salt. (One of many fruits I was served, most were not documented.)

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Making fresh fried dough… oh so yummy.

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A wonderful little feast at my last visit for this trip in Assam, India.

 

 

 

 

redeeming missiles

redeem: compensate for the faults or bad aspects of something (The New Oxford American Dictionary)

missile plantar

I do not know where bullets end and missiles begin, but as I crossed the compound, it seemed to me that what I was seeing would fall into the (small?) missile category. Except that instead of looking threatening and telling stories of trauma, this missile was disguised as a planter. The end of the missile was cut off and plants tumbled out of its top. It was beautiful. Had I not known where I was, I probably never would have taken a second look as it was beside a tree in a large courtyard, and I never would have realized what I was seeing. But I did, and it made me smile to see how this home in northern Sri Lanka had redeemed this weapon of war. Intentional or not, a symbol of war became a symbol of beauty, violence replaced with peace. A stunning act, a beautiful moment.

I am so thankful when I notice  ‘little’ things when I am traveling.

books of 2013: from biographies to beach trash

From biographies to beach trash…. my annual book list. I am afraid that in the midst of life this year, I forgot to keep a list of the books I read. The year started out with  lighthearted reading and ended with management and fundraising books – good in their own right, but not what I would categorize as lighthearted fun. So, instead of a full list, this year I leave you with a few that you might consider adding to your reading list. Because I think these are fun and you are great, I am providing you links to each of these on Amazon in paper and kindle (when available) form. Happy reading.

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card; where to find it: In Paper In Kindle

Here is where I admit that I never would have picked up this ‘young adult’ / children’s science-fiction book on my own. But, a friend gifted it to me, and so it was sitting on my kindle just waiting for an opportune time. I got the flu, and I feel in love with this little book.

 Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes  by Jonathan Auxier; where to find it: In Paper In Kindle

Another children’s book, but this time written by the good friend of a good friend. It reminds me of a Roald Dahl book, and I highly recommend picking up a copy. It would be a great read-aloud with your children.

Boy by Roald Dahl; where to find it: In Paper In Kindle

Following on the above book, I love Roald Dahl. The BFG was a favorite for us kids and my Dad read it to us over and over. Boy is Dahl’s autobiography of his childhood–some of which was spent in Tanzania in places I know. It is Dahl’s familiar writing style with bits and pieces of familiar places tossed in. A lovely, quick read.

A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: How I Learned to Live a Better Story  by Donald Miller; where to find it: In Paper In Kindle

I have a place in my heart for Don Miller, and this book is no exception. Our lives our stories, and we make a lot of choices along the way about where those stories take us. Through his own story, Don reminds us that we have choices and we can choose to live a great story.

Love Does: Discover a Secretly Incredible Life in an Ordinary World  by Bob Goff; where to find it: In Paper In Kindle

In the above book, Don mentions Bob Goff. So, when Bob’s book came out, of course I was a little bit curious. I laughed my way through this book as I was reminded that God loves in extravagant and whimsical ways. A friend read this book and felt like maybe her life was too small, a sense of guilt seeping in. If you read this book, don’t let yourself feel that for a moment. It is an invitation to live life to its fullness, to recognize the extraordinary in the daily, to experience the whimsical life. It is beautiful.

The Right to Write: An Invitation and Initiation into the Writing Life by Julia Cameron; where to find it: In Paper In Kindle

I read this book when I spent several weeks writing and living in community with dear friends. It provides freedom and encouragement as I dove into the art of writing. I highly recommend picking this book up if writing is part of your journey.

Love is an Orientation: Elevating the Conversation with the Gay Community by Andrew Marin; where to find it: In Paper In Kindle

Marin provides no answers, and certainly no easy ones. It is the first book written from the Christian perspective on this issue that I have appreciated and honestly recommend reading it. Regardless of what you believe, Marin provides valuable thoughts to help you understand the impact of your words and actions, as well as much food for thought.

Heat Wave  and  Naked Heat by Richard Castle; where to find it: In Paper/Kindle

Beach trash. If you watch the television show Castle, there is probably a spot in your heart for these books. They read like an episode of the show, mirroring when the books are released in the show. Lovely beach trash. But, if you don’t watch the show, skip the books.

split pea soup & welcoming 2014

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When I was a child, and really, well into my 20’s, lentils tasted like dirt. It was not that I did not like them and was trying to find an excuse to not eat them, but they honestly tasted like dirt – like the earth beneath our feet. Make a 20 bean soup and I could tell you that it contained lentils because it would taste as if a spoonful of dirt was tossed into the pot to cook alongside the beans and spices. My taste buds were simply wired a little incorrectly when it came to this bean.

This was more than a little tragic given that I spent much of my childhood in the Middle East where lentils were a normal part of the local diet. Thankfully, it was not the most common food and I could generally avoid them and instead eat the wide array of food that I found to be truly fantastic. Every few years I would try (by choice or necessity) lentils again, each time disappointed.

Then, one day in my mid-20’s, I was served lentils by an unknowing friend. I could not imagine being rude and rejecting the home cooked meal, and so prepared to eat a meal I assumed would taste like earth. But it did not. For the first time, I tasted a lentil without dirt, a bean that was actually quite good. It was as if my taste buds had been rewired. Unfortunately, I found out (not that much later) that this did not apply to split peas. In the same moment I tasted them for the first time, I found out that I was wired to find them a little too earth-like to be enjoyable. Oh body, really, what is the point?

I see no reason to go out of my way to eat (or cook) things that taste like dirt. So, no split pea soup was being prepared or ordered by me. Then, on Sunday, I was served split pea soup by another unknowing friend. It was wonderful! I had a second bowl and then was given some to take home, which I promptly had for lunch the next day. Once again, my taste buds had been rewired.

As I say hello to 2014, I wonder how many other things in life are like this? I was content in my lentil and split pea free existence, and never would have gone out of my way to try them. But over time our tastes do change and develop; intentionally or unintentionally, they change. I would like to say that I always curate my tastes in life to be for good things, the things that are rich and fill the soul, but that is not always true. And I would like to say that I am always up for trying new things, but that is also not always true.

When I turned 30, I was coming out of a hard season of life, and as I was picking myself up and looking around, I decided that there was only one way to go: forward. Life did not look like what I thought it would, and so I declared it that my 30’s would be a decade of adventure. What better way was there to welcome the unknown and take a step forward then to declare the unknown to be good, life yet to be discovered full of fun? Adventures are grand but they are also often small, created by finding joy in life. They are found in the adrenaline of rappelling off of cliffs and the freedom of skinny dipping in a lake under the stars. They are found in books read on the beach and conversations with new friends by a fire. Adventures are found by choosing to find magic in the everyday.

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I am just shy of three years into this decade of adventure, and I love looking forward and wondering what the rest of this decade will hold. I have an inkling it will be rich. And I as I look forward, I am thankful for the reminder found in my split pea soup that tastes really do change, and I have a choice to help them along and keep trying, or to sit in what ‘I know to be true.’ I am thankful that I have friends who are on this journey with me, ones who share a sense of adventure, a deep-seeded joy, and a love of laughter. Thank you dear friends for making my life rich. Here is to a 2014 filled with adventures, magic in the everyday.

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Getting ready to do a polar bear swim today, January 1, 2014 (in costume, of course).

belovedness: a foundation for my work

I wrote this for staff at Lifewater who I am honored to serve alongside of, and I thought you might enjoy this as well.

Quite often out of an intimate encounter with God encounters with other human beings become possible…If you are the beloved of God, if you start thinking about other people’s lives, you start realizing that they are as beloved as you are. One of the profound experiences of the spiritual life is that when you discover yourself as being the beloved son or daughter of God, you suddenly have new eyes to see the belovedness of other people. 

It is very interesting because it is the opposite of what happens in the world when they say you are very special, that means you are not the same as the rest. If you win an award and they say you are different than others, then that award is valuable because not everybody gets that award. The world is saying that you are only the best when not everybody else is the best. 

~Henri J.M. Nouwen, “Discovering our gift through service to others,” a speech given to members of Fadica, 1994 as quoted in Advent and Christmas Wisdom from Henri J.M. Nouwen. Liguori: Liguori Publications, 2004. pg 42

I love these words by Nouwen and they make me pause to think about the work that we are called to. At times I am caught up by the urgency of our work and of the demands of the many different things that we balance. There are partner needs, fundraising needs, field trainer needs. There are the needs in the office and outside of the office. The industry is changing and growing. We want to be innovating and improving both the industry and our work — we want our voices to be heard. There are budgets and numbers and proposals and reports. We put in hours to make better programs and find more dollars to fund the programs. Each and every thing is important in its own right.

But, in the moment I pause, I am reminded that not one of these things is as important as our foundation and the perspective that we bring to our work. Our foundation is in Christ and His view of both us and all of humankind. He calls us His beloved. We are truly loved by God — not because of anything that we have done, simply because we are. As I pause to take that in, my heart lets out a sigh as it is filled with goodness. I am the beloved of Christ. When I sit in this, it truly fills me and I want to invite other people into this goodness and I want this to be the foundation of my relationship with others. I want this deep love to flow from me to others, that others would know of Christ’s goodness through my interaction with them.

Yes, I want us to do great work, build great systems, and I want our work to be known. But, at the foundation of everything, I want everyone to know that God loves them because of how we choose to care for them and express this through our actions. Yes, I want the young girl in a village to have water. But, what I really want, is for her to know that she is the beloved of Christ – that she is worthy of that love and the dignity that comes with it. I want us to be known by this deep love wherever we go — in our offices and in the field. Let’s do great things, but may it always be on this foundation. In this season and always, may our hearts know that we are the beloved of Christ that we may, in turn, see everyone from our officemates to the village mamas to the new born children as the beloved of Christ. May this be the foundation of our work.

Merry Christmas.

memories of roses

I love roses, and I love that I can get beautiful single stems at the farmer’s market here in San Luis Obispo. I love them for their beauty, and I love them for the memories they hold.

When we first moved to Jordan, we moved into a new building and the garden beds were empty. We had moved from the tropics where everything grew fast and large, but this was the desert. The little, scraggly rose bushes we planted looked like little sticks in comparison to the veritable jungle we had left behind. I remember doubting that they would ever becoming something grand.

In the coming years, those little sticks became rose bushes that looked me in the eye with branches heavy with flowers. Pink and white flowers that were so incredibly fragrant. From the gate to our door I walked by these bushes every day, and I would stop to smell the roses. It would just take a moment, but what a lovely moment.

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Now my flowers are more ‘perfect’ and less fragrant, but I love them all the same. Maybe some day I will again have rose bushes. Until then, I am content and thankful for the farmer’s market.

 

a few thoughts on gratitude

Gratitude is a choice. You cannot be both grateful and resentful, both grateful and judgement, both grateful and fearful. Gratitude is the response to grace. 

These were the thoughts that welcomed the start of my Thanksgiving holiday at an ecumenical service. I am so grateful that was how these last few days began. Gratitude is a response and a choice, and it is truly amazing how it changes one’s perspective. Do you know what you are truly grateful for today? As I sit by my fire with Christmas music playing in the background, I thought I would share a few things that I am grateful for today.

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I am grateful when churches put aside their preferences and choose to worship together.

I am grateful for getting to know extended family, sharing meals, and making memories.

I am grateful for new friends and for rich laughter.

I am grateful to be welcoming the advent season with others in great anticipation of celebrations to come.

I am grateful for hot apple cider and full tables.

I am grateful for this house, how it is becoming a home and welcoming others.

I am grateful for time to be creative and time to be in nature; both food for my soul.

I am grateful because I love a God who delights in beauty, who loves His children.

I hope that your Thanksgiving was full of richness. I hope that you are full of gratitude tonight.

 

a christmas gift alternative & homemade thank-you’s

Everywhere I turn I am reminded that Black Friday is days away. Take a minute and think about doing something different this year – something that does not require early wake-ups, crazy crowds, or lots of decision making. For those of you that love shopping, think about the lasting impact this gift could make – these colors will never go out of style.

This year help get rid of water borne diseases in communities through water and sanitation development. It’s simple: buy a full item or a share (of something cool like a well or a latrine or a tank of fuel), a t-shirt, or simply donate a few dollars for yourself or as a gift for someone else. Go HERE on the Lifewater website to read more about the options of how you could help.

Make This Christmas Count from Lifewater International on Vimeo.

 

Here is my extra little deal for you: If you let me know that you bought an item or donated between now and Christmas (by posting a comment or sending me an email), I will send you and the person you bought the gift for a thank you note on one of my (personally) homemade Christmas cards. Just a little thank you from me — I truly know the difference this work makes, and I would love for you to join in this story with me.

how i pack

I am often asked about how I pack for my travel — about what to bring, my favorite odds and ends, and, my favorite, how it all fits into a carry-on. For some of you this is normal, for others, shocking. But, here is the simple, practical reality: When I travel, I rarely stay near the airport for even 24 hours, so when luggage gets lost, it either causes a major kink in the schedule or I go without my luggage. The simple solution is to not check luggage. Besides, why carry more than needed through airports, stuff it into taxis, or up airport stairs? It’s not fancy, but it normally works. So, here are my thoughts and tips.

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Basic principles: 

  • Figure out what you are doing and pack minimum that you need. That is mostly what this is about, plus a few extra gadgets to keep life fun.
  • Remember that you can always do laundry – even if it’s in a sink. You just need enough time for it to air dry.
  • For clothes, pack things that are flexible and can be worn with each other. Layers are your friend.
  • In most places people wear their nice clothes. So, think about leaving your safari-worthy clothes behind. Unless of course you are actually going on a safari.
  • Remove any extra packaging you can. For example, I often put medicines in smaller plastic bags and leave the bottles behind.
  • Never forget your headlamp. More often than not, it will be a good friend: when the bedside table is missing a lamp or when the power goes out.

Some of my favorite travel gadgets and where you can find them: 

  • GoToob Travel Bottles. these are super easy to fill with your own shampoo. Made a painful task easy. I use 1.5 oz bottles, which I do not see online. This lasts me for a two week trip without problems, so think before you pack 3 oz of shampoo.
  • Sea to Summit Dry Bag. I have the 4L one – it fits my journal, Kindle and camera with room to spare. It takes up almost no space, but has saved them from the middle of a surprise rain storm.
  • Kindle. I love the feel and the smell of books. I love used books. What I love more is being able to have a bunch of books in my bag all the time without devoting a lot of my bag to books. I still love paper books when I’m home.
  • Therm-a-Rest Stuff Sack Pillow. With my fleece inside it is far from a perfect pillow but has made up for more than one horrible pillow.
  • 2XU Compression Socks: Apparently I’m getting old because I love these on my long flights. I feel so much better after a trans-Atlantic flight when using these.
  • Sleeping bag liner. I only carry this when I am going back-country. But, when needed, this is great and I love that it is mosquito repellent.
  • Reusable Gear Ties. These keep the wires orderly and keep me sane. Definitely worth a couple of bucks.
  • Eagle Creek Pack-It Cubes: I use the Quarter Cubes for my first aid kit and for my electronics. I use the Half Cubes when I am traveling to two different climates or regions to keep clothes separated. They keep my packing easy and use space well.
  • GSI Collapsable Coffee Drip. In much of rural Africa the only coffee available is instant coffee. But, I can normally get hot water. This silicon collapsable coffee drip has made many a happy morning for me and my travel companions.

Specific packing list (designed for a trip to Uganda & Ethiopia – vary based on your trip specific location and activities: 

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Clothes: 

  • Women: 2 skirts, 2 pairs trousers
  • Men: 3 pairs trousers
  • 1 pair jeans
  • 3 button down shirts or blouses
  • 3 t-shirts
  • 1-2 long sleeved shirts / 1 light cardigan
  • 1 pair pajamas
  • 5-7 pairs underwear (women: bras and slips)
  • 2-3 pairs socks
  • 1 pair compression socks
  • 1 fleece / outer layer
  • 1 rainy coat (if rainy season)
  • 1 bandana
  • 1 pair of chaos / walking shoes
  • 1 pair close-toed shoes
  • 1 pair flip flops
  • Sunglasses
  • Hat (for sun)

 Gear: 

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  • rolling, carry-on sized bag
  • day pack / shoulder bag (airlines call this a ‘personal bag’)
  • purse (that is packed inside backpack or luggage)
  • headlamp or small flashlight
  • alarm clock (or watch in addition to phone for when phone looses battery)
  • camera, charger
  • universal electricity plugs
  • passport & driver’s license (and a photocopy in different location of both)
  • journal or notebook
  • roll of electrical tape (best if you have a half roll lying around the house) – this has gotten me out of several binds
  • small sewing kit (needle, thread, safety pins)
  • thin, small tea towel – when traveling to the remote areas this has served as a bath towel, a bandage, and a wash cloth (all separate times)
  • ATM card
  • Airplane blow-up pillow: helps the long flights be manageable
  • for coffee lovers going to bad coffee locations: coffee drip, paper filters, coffee

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Toiletries: 

Remember that all liquids must be in 3 oz (100 mL) or less containers all packed in a 1 quart (1 liter) zip lock bag.

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  • 1 pack travel size hand wipes
  • 1 small hand sanitizer
  • 1 hair brush or cob
  • 1 soap / body wash
  • 1 deodorant
  • 1 lotion
  • 1 shampoo & conditioner
  • 1 toothpaste & toothbrush
  • nail clippers and file
  • 1 sunblock
  • 1 insect repellant

Medicine: 

These are the basics. Bring what you need and what your travel doctor recommends. 

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  • Malarone (anti-malarial pills)
  • Chewable Pepto Bismol
  • Imodium
  • Neosporen and bandaids
  • Ibuprofen or preferred pain killers
  • Allergy medicine as needed

How to pack: 

Some people like to roll their clothes, and I often resort to this on my way home. But, when on the road, I like to be able to see my clothes and easily work out of my suitcase. I fold my shirts and trousers so that I can see them all without unpacking. I like packing cubes (quarters) for first aid kits and wires. Also, I have a bad habit of forgetting things when I am tired and jet legged, which ends up being more often than I care to admit. So, whenever I can, I get bags and cases (iPhone cases, kindle covers, camera cases, etc.) that are bright colors, colors that do not blend in with bed spreads or disappear in airplane pockets. You can laugh, but this has saved me more than once. I hope these pictures help — all of that really can fit together. And yes, because of the specific itinerary on this trip, I packed more than normal – normally there is room to spare.

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Notes for other regions: 

As I said above, this was a packing job for Uganda / Ethiopia. It was the end of rainy season, so I needed a rain coat. I was moving frequently so had less time to wash clothes, and I needed some layers for Addis Ababa, where the weather is cooler. When I am in major cities, I pack clothes appropriate for cafes and evenings out. When I am in Asia, I pack fewer layers and more thin cottons. When I have space, I always toss in a pair of yoga pants or shorts to lounge in. When I go to a cold climate, I work with undershirts and a versatile sweater or two. Sometimes, these plans do not work and I have to check luggage, but, thankfully, it is rare. (Extra camera gear and cold climates present the biggest challenges and the most frequent checked luggage.) Most of the time, this is how I travel.

Do you have any special travel gadgets or packing tricks? I would love to hear them!

a small piece of magic

I walked to yoga class in the dark, and as I walked home the stars shone bright. O’Ryan and the Big Dipper overhead, I could not help but smile. I was still warm from yoga, the air was cool, and a fire was waiting for me at home. A small piece of magic, a burst of beauty.

a smart shower? worth the investment.

You know I love water and nearly everything to do with it. And so, today, I introduce a new idea – taking a minute to seriously think about how long you spend in the shower.

How long are your showers? How many gallons of water flow down the drain while you simply enjoy the warmth? How much does it cost you? I bet if you had any idea how much water, and how much money, you were spending, you might change your habits. There is a new little device being made that would tell you exactly that information with an instant feedback loop. It would snap on to your shower, and turn orange and then red when you were in the shower for too long. Paying attention to that little red light would save gallons of water and lots of dollars every month. Take a minute and check out the details HERE

These guys are still in college, but they have a great team and a great idea. My geeky, water conserving brothers are confident they can pull this together (and know the professors supporting this team). I want to believe that innovations like these really do make a difference, and that is why I am telling you about this.

I rarely plug products here, but this one is worth checking out. They have 10 more days to fund this project, and I think it is awesome. I live in a region that is constantly short on water, and my water bill is my most expensive utility bill every month. I am supporting this project. I hope this project is wildly successful and that one day these smart showers will be commonplace. Will you join me and help make that a reality? Let’s conserve a little water together.

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ps – The kickstarted page shows some of the quotes of others who think it is cool…. like Fast Company!

being thankful & learning new rhythms

It has been a few months since I wrote here, and even longer since it was a regular habit. For me, that is what happens sometimes when life gets tossed upside down. In the last six months life took several turns that I did not anticipate: I took a job months earlier than I intended to, moved to California, added Asia to my work travel schedule, bought a condo, and am in the midst of a small remodel. Pause and take a deep breath: the nomad, who two years ago downsized and moved to Africa, then moved back and was preparing for months of travel, photography, cooking, exploring and seeing friends, instead took a job and bought a house (and has done very little photography, cooking, or seeing of old friends). These twists and turns were both unanticipated and beautiful; I am thankful for this journey.

ethiopia well-1937

I feel like when you accept a job, you step into the unknown. It does not matter how much research you have done, how many conversations you have had, or how many details you  have worked out – it is an unknown. There are hopes and dreams and you want to pretend that you know what you are stepping into, but it will be different than you anticipate. The hope is that it will be better in its own way, but it is the gamble taken. I have just completed six months at my job — and I am thankful to say that it is has been better than I hoped for and I am excited about the future. There is so much work to do, so many lives to impact, but I am in a place where I can work and can grow, I am with a team that is strong. We are far from perfect, but  we embrace the challenges and believe in excellence. Trust me, you will be hearing more about my journey at Lifewater and the lives we impact. It is good and I hope you join me in the work we are doing. I am thankful for this work.

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Then there is the condo. There is a part of me that never wanted to make such a purchase and a commitment to upkeep of a property, but then there was another part of me that wanted a place that was my home – my own place of peace that I could share with others. Well, I am in the midst of creating the latter: my very own place of peace. When you buy a 1979 condo that had never been updated and had downsized your possessions (or left them trailed behind you in other countries), this is a not small labor of love, but a worthy one. I am thankful for this home.

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This is where I find myself: on a most unexpected adventure, but thankful it is where I am. My world has been flipping around, and I am starting to find my new normal, and for that I am thankful as well. I can honestly say that I am excited by where I am and what I am doing. I am excited by this challenge and this journey, and I look forward to sharing more of it with you as I settle into the new rhythms of my life.

remembering life in a village

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I am working on putting together some of my favorite photos from the last decade of traveling and living in Africa, which is bringing back a flood of beautiful memories. Some of these take me back to when I was living in a village in Benin doing research every summer. This is a favorite of mine: all of the basins lined up outside of a home – carefully placed in a row and standing at attention. These basins were used to carry water, cook food, do laundry, and to store water or food. In so many ways, they were a central part of life, each one’s shape useful for its task. To me they are reminders of learning how to use each one – how to carry water on my head, to cook over a stove, to pour water into a water jar and shower under the stars. For me these basins hold beautiful memories.