May 23, 2013

Rice & Beans Month: What It Looks Like

In my last post, I discussed how we learned about R&B month and why we decided to participate.  Today I'll discuss a bit of the "how."

When our family began discussing whether to participate in this strange venture, I started by asking my friend India how her family "did" Rice & Beans month.  Did they ONLY eat rice and bean meals, meaning breakfast, lunch, AND dinner?  Or what?  She graciously took time to send me her own personal notes over the past several years' experience with this project.

I'm thankful for her input, because...being who I am...I probably could have easily become Pharisaical about this effort.  I tend to be an "all or nothing" kind of person, and I like rules and guidelines that I can check off. That is NOT what R&B month is about, and I was grateful to see that the M family's experience varied greatly over the years.

I also read testimonials in the recipe/devotional book, A Common Meal: Reflections and Recipes for Rice & Beans Month.  I checked out the web site and the Facebook page, scouring to find ideas and encouragement from past participants.  I even began making some tentative meal plans.

And then we found out Ted was going TDY (temporary duty assignment) to Texas for 6 weeks, leaving March 1.

Um, yeah.

I decided I was NOT going to do this without him!  So we talked it over and agreed that we would postpone our own R&B month until sometime after his return.

And somehow the time between April 14 (his arrival back in Italy) and Mother's Day just FLEW!  As we looked at the calendar and saw summer and vacation plans looming, we realized that we had better get serious and just do this thing...or else give it up as a lost cause for 2013 and plan to participate next year.

Well, we had already begun discussions with the kids earlier in the year, so we felt accountable to follow through.  And we felt strongly that God has some lessons for us to learn, no matter how this first fumbling attempt turns out.

So we began the day after Mother's Day.  For us, R&B month looks like this:
  • 4 weeks of 6 days each
  • One "Celebration Day" each week, during which we are free to eat whatever the kids deem necessary for survival--they are taking turns planning meals!
  • The Celebration Day also helps us allow for special outings/events.
Our "food rules" (which, frankly, are held pretty loosely) for the 6 days of R&B meals are as follows:
  • No meat
  • No junk (pre-processed foods)
  • No snacks
  • No desserts
  • Limited dairy (I do have younger kiddos who still get their milk, and maybe once a week we will have a meal where I sparingly grate cheese over, say, a black bean burger patty or meatless chili.)
So do we NEVER get snacks?  Well, no.  I try to take into consideration what our activities are that day, plus whatever was served for lunch.  If I ONLY serve lentil stew and rice...and I know two of the kids really do not like lentil stew...well, we have sliced apples and peanut butter for a snack.

And do I really not use ANY pre-processed foods?  Well, no.  I decided to use up whatever cereal we had in the pantry, for example, but encourage oatmeal, grits, or breakfast rice (rice heated with milk, honey, cinnamon, raisins, whatever) when possible.  And I have not been able to find dried black beans that aren't in a soup mix at the commissary, so I've used canned black beans.  All our other beans are dried, though, and I soak and cook them in bulk.  I bake our own bread, which we use for PBJs since we are meat-free and doing very limited dairy.  I've popped stovetop popcorn in bulk--we have it for our family movie night, and then I do a few ziplock bags full for having for picnics (or, yes, snacks!) the next week.  

So this is how it has gone for us so far, and we are closing in on the end of week 2 already!  I must confess that I feel like we could be a lot more stringent...I'm at least trying to be a BIT harder on myself than the kids (I don't always have snacks when they do, for example, even though I could probably easily justify it with the pregnancy...and I do that occasionally, too!).  But considering this is our first attempt, and considering we aren't doing this in community with other R&Bers at the same time, I think we are doing all right!

Next R&B post: Some of the lessons we've been learning!

May 21, 2013

Of Rice, Beans, and Child Sponsorship

Over a year ago through some friends of ours I was introduced to Lahash International, an organization that partners with local ministries in Eastern Africa to "bring good news and holistic care to children in need."  I read about the Main family's involvement with Lahash's Rice & Beans Month and couldn't help but be intrigued.  I tucked away the idea for future reference and went on with my life...which at the time included waiting desperately for the last couple of months of a very long deployment to come to an end.

A few weeks after Ted's return from Afghanistan we ventured on a mega road trip that included serving at the Commission 2012 summer youth camp in Idaho, where I devoured a book called The Hole in Our Gospel during camp week.  Richard Stearns, CEO of World Vision USA, is the author, so already I had an intrinsic desire to read the book--we've been child sponsors through World Vision since my college days.  I'll write more at a later date about this book and the path it started me on (well, me and my dear hubby, who has been a fairly willing participant in my journey!), but I wanted to at least note the book here, because it definitely played a role in some steps our family began to take last fall.

Enter once again the Main family.  We received a letter from them detailing a great adventure--three of them would be traveling to Uganda to meet with their sponsored boy!  The team visit would coincide with the dedication of a new family-style house that would be home to a number of sponsored children and their care givers as well as a weekend camp-style retreat that volunteers were organizing for the kids.  At the same time the Mains were raising funds for their travels, their son Daniel decided to do a fundraiser of his own to help raise money for the Amazing Grace Children's Home project.  "Hoops for Homes" was a fun and inspired way for him to use his talent with a basketball and get his community involved in donating as well.

Cue our own family's interest and creativity...meanwhile, we were settling in a bit into life here in Italy, living in a two-bedroom apartment while waiting for a more permanent living situation to open up.  With some extra time (if not space) on our hands, Charis decided to begin her own fundraiser, "Bears for Bricks."  We cheered her on (and indulged her need to knit during school read-aloud time) as she knitted almost 40 bears.  (As an that we've finished the fundraiser, I really have NO IDEA how much money she raised, but I'm so proud of her for sticking with it and carrying out her vision to make this happen!)

The more we read about the Main family's Uganda trip preparations, and the more we read about Lahash as an organization, the more convinced we became that our family needed to get in on the exciting things God has been doing in East Africa!  In November we officially became sponsors of 5 children at AGCH, all of whom India, John, and Josiah got to meet when they went on their trip.

Sponsoring Godfrey, Jesca, Oliver, Morris, Kani, and (just recently) Sarah has been an incredible gateway for our kids' eyes to be opened to the vast needs in the world around us.  Our kids have never truly known what it is to be "starving" (though they would argue that fact an hour before dinner).  They have never lacked for clothing.  They have never hurt for living space, despite a bigger-than-average family size.  They don't have to walk anywhere to fetch water; they have hours of free time that in other parts of the world would find them slaving over basic survival tasks.

The J kids have connected with their new friends in East Africa by writing letters back and forth and seeing their pictures, both in the mail and online through blogs, Facebook groups, etc.  When we learned that "our" kids were having to walk over a mile each way for decent water, we were motivated by love and concern to spread the word about Lahash's need for funds for drilling a well on the AGCH property.  When we saw pictures of Godfrey and Jesca with the mattresses they received for Christmas--and when it dawned on the kids that this was the FIRST TIME these kids have been able to sleep comfortably on a regular basis--well, that was a powerful teaching moment.  When we saw the smiles of Oliver, Morris, and Kani as they held up their backpacks or proudly modeled new clothes, we felt their joy while at the same time feeling somewhat ashamed of whatever our complaint-of-the-day happened to be.

So it seemed a natural step for our family to join with Lahash in observing Rice & Beans Month.
  1. Solidarity--joining with our friends around the world who don't have the options and variety that we enjoy in their food habits.
  2. Simplicity--getting rid of excesses and non-essentials so we can focus on what's really important.
  3. Sharing--simplifying our diets so that we can share our extra resources to help meet the nutritional needs of vulnerable children across East Africa.
I need to wrap this up...a delicious concoction known as "Dan's Ginger & Zucchini Beans" is simmering on the stove, and it's time for me to heat up some rice to go with it!  In my next post, I'll write in detail about Rice & Beans our family is approaching it this year and some of our personal thoughts about the experience.

May 18, 2013


One of two possible locations for Sybil, the oracle of Greek legends, and the legendary site of Daedalus and his ill-fated son Icarus (who flew too close to the sun so that it melted the wax on his wings), Cuma's ruins are less than a 15-minute drive from our house.  This was another great place to explore, although it took much more time and energy than our trip to Capua the day before!  It was good we went early, as it turned out to be a very hot day, and busloads of kids swarmed the grounds as we were making our descent from the temple ruins at the top of the hillside overlooking the coast and the islands of Procida and Ischia.

Just outside the trapezoid-shaped tunnel that supposedly led to the oracle.

Headed up the hillside to see the ruins.

Beautiful walkway!

Had to grab a Sonlight book to review Greek mythology!

If I remember correctly...this was formerly a temple to the sun god? 

Posing like statues!

Getting amorous in the temple of Jove!

Ceremonial well

Capua Amphitheater

One of our day trips during Ted's brief leave time following his Texas TDY was to the second-biggest Roman amphitheater in Italy (after Rome's Colosseum).  This is where Spartacus became famous!  It is less than an hour's drive from our home, and it was the perfect place to spend a morning exploring.  The weather was beautiful--starting to get hot by the time we left.  The spaces underground were nice and cool, though, so I can see this being a fun place to go in the summer with a picnic lunch!  The kids had so much fun playing hide and seek!  Since children are free to enter, we only paid a few euros...parking was free and available on the street, easy to access since we were there on a weekday before lunch.  I'm sure we'll be back with visitors someday!
Just outside the an idea of how big it is. The building to the right is a small museum.

Overlooking the arena

Underneath the arena--love this shot!  You can see why the kids enjoyed exploring it so!

Nice picture, Ted!!

Too bad I didn't think of having my baby belly photo bomb this picture!

Kenna and Charis look at the replica of what is and what (likely) was.

Real armor! Tobin says, "I gotta get me some of those!"

May 13, 2013

Catch-Up Post

Oh. My. Goodness!  Time to update!  Bullet highlights time with more detailed posts to follow...

  • We survived a 6-week separation while Ted was in Texas for training for his new job.  He returned April 14.  Woohoo!
  • During his absence, Lucan turned 4!
  • Ted got to celebrate his birthday and Easter with his family in Colorado.  It was a quick trip but a blessing for all of them.
  • He also spent a weekend with dear friends of ours, Chas and Melinda P.
  • While he was gone, Charis and I went to Paris for a weekend with two other moms and 3 daughters.  Wonderful families took care of my other 5 children, and I welcomed the break and the opportunity to have some girl time with friends and my firstborn!
  • Tobin turned 11 the day before Ted returned home, so we waited a bit to celebrate together.
  • The week after Ted came home we had our ultrasound and learned we are having another BOY!
  • Ted had to hit the office immediately and was put to work...not even allowing time for jet lag recovery!
  • But the second week he was home he did manage to get a few days of leave time, so we took some day trips.
  • First day trip:  Capua Amphitheater, an ancient gladiator training school.  So fun to explore!
  • Second trip:  Cuma, Greek ruins close to the coast.
  • Third: We left the younger 3 with a babysitter and took the older ones downtown to see the Naples Archaeological Museum and then take the Naples Underground tour.
  • We finally finished Year 2 of American History and took some time off school.
  • Our next box of curriculum--covering the Eastern Hemisphere--arrived, and we got a slow but eager start...might as well keep on rolling since we already know we'll need some time off for traveling this summer and when the baby comes.
  • Our semester of PWOC (Protestant Women of the Chapel) studies wrapped up, so my teaching duties (The Hole in Our Gospel) are over.
  • However...I kept pretty busy planning "Slaves No More," a mini-conference about human trafficking that we hosted this past Friday night.  God is so good!!  Can't wait to tell you about this event!
  • We celebrated Mother's Day in a low-key way yesterday, opting to forego an expensive dinner out and instead stay home and simplify.  The kids decided the movie Brave was a good Mother's Day themed choice, so my gifts included the movie (which we of course watched!), beautiful flowers, and a crocheted hat from Charis!
And that about summarizes the last 5-6 weeks or so!  I'll try to post more pics and details about our adventures in days to come, but at least this helps get me caught up so when I look back there isn't quite as big of a gaping hole in the 2013 journaling!