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Martha is so smart with her wire rack turned on its side and attached to the cabinet.

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Decorating Truths from A 15-Year-Old Tanzanian Boy

Warning:: Moms of boys may experience uncomfortable, unexplainable side effects while reading this post. Side effects are treatable with a prompt visit here to sponsor a teenage boy.  In order to alleviate the discomfort, take one or two of those and email me in the morning–for real, you should email me after you do this.

Flashback about four weeks ago.  I get in bed at my normal bed time one Sunday night (yes, it is actually still in the 8’s have I told you I am 97 years old?)  and I happen to remember to bring my phone upstairs with me and I see a text from Caroline.

What luck!  So I watch and I learn one thing about Tanzania; I learn what CBS decides to tell me about the Maasai Tribe. I mean, I didn’t even realize that Tanzanite comes from Tanzania–I really should have researched this country I was going to visit.  I must have doubled up on art class and skipped Geography in school or something.  But now I’m armed with a tiny bit of knowledge about Tanzania and it feels good. Note to self:: Maasai Tribe.

Amazing Race on CBS

Flash forward to today.  It’s the day I get to meet our sponsored child, Topiwo. We just started sponsoring him right before this trip so all I have is a photo of him and a name I’m not sure how to pronounce so I call him “Topo” to myself and the initial information that Compassion sends, but we hadn’t corresponded through letters yet so, you know, we didn’t really know each other.

I was lucky enough to get to be there when Amy met her sponsored child and it was breathtaking.  And I knew every meeting is different and I am a 97, I mean 38-year-old mom who has Wynonna Judd on her iPod meeting a 15-year-old boy in Africa.  Worlds are colliding people.  I was prepared for lots of awkwardness and maybe not even a hug or anything, maybe a thumbs up or something or a rock throwing contest at lizards or whatever.  I’ve been around 15-year-old boys before at my own house,  they are their own special people and I’m good with that.

So we leave the city of Arusha, and we drive an hour and twenty minutes into the most beautiful land I’ve ever laid eyes on–sorry North Carolina.

Vast green grasslands with big huge-attention stealing, Mt. Kilimanjaro quietly watching over the entire last 45 minutes of driving.  Mt. Kilimanjaro is an introvert but one you can’t help but notice.  It was breathtaking.  And on the way, our guide, Mary tells us that many of the children at this Compassion location are Maasai. Wait, what? Maasai?  I know that word! The ONE thing I actually kind of heard of about Tanzania?  I have to put on my sunglasses on the bus and make Maggie tell me funny stories because how do I explain that I’m already tearing up that Topo might be Maasai?

So we pull up to the site and they sing to us because they want to make us cry.

And we get out and we start shaking hands and laughing and introducing ourselves and I make my way around scanning the crowd for a boy that looks like this …

 our youngest holding our photo of Topo

And finally, I make my way around to a group of boys and a sassy girl with some kind of transition lenses glasses…

and they are all circled around and pointing to a boy standing in the middle of the group with his head down….and he is smiling.  And I ask him his name and it starts with “Top” which is the only part of his name I know how to pronounce.

And there he is. Wearing the same clothes as in the picture.


I hope he could tell I was happy to meet him?

And I am so happy that I didn’t cry (Maggie was praying for that specifically) because who wants to meet a 38-year-old mom with Wynonna on her iPod who is also CRYING? No one!  Everyone would much rather meet a 38-year-old mom with Wynonna on her iPod who is making a face like they are going to eat them.

So he is absolutely adorable (15-year-old boys everywhere now hate me but whatevs, they are not my demographic anyway and he was TOTALLY adorable, people!).  I pulled out a little photo book we made for him and showed him pictures of my family.


He loved this one…

Then it was time for them to sing another song because they wanted to see me cry again here’s a 25 second clip if you want to hear.


back row, right corner, a little off rhythm, purple sweater, yellow shirt–oh wait they all have that on

Then we went into the Compassion office and, y’all, he grabbed MY HAND.  I promise I did not in any way try to hint for him to hold my hand, I wanted to make sure I gave him space to be his own personality (clearly, I held back all of my emotions which you can tell by the stoic look on my face in the photos) but oh my word he held my hand and sat by me in the office and he looked at the photos about 23 times while running his finger over parts of them and asking me what that thing was (a street light) and then he raised up the book and kissed it–right on the photo of our dog!

Next we got to go to Topiwo’s home.  And this part needs its own series, people and I’m going to do my best to cram it into one long, everwordy post. So grab a coffee, run to the bathroom  and get ready to be astonished…. this is gonna be worth it, as long as I don’t wreck it all up.  I will never forget this as long as I shall live…

And for the record, I’ve always said, you never really know a person until you’ve been in their home or at least I’m saying it starting today.

After four days of walking over urban dirt roads and paths littered with trash, visiting children in concrete homes crammed close together we found ourselves in this pristine, pure, open plain at the foot of some mountains…

here’s a few seconds of our walk – it’s shaky but you get the idea::


And then we get to his home.

A handmade home.

And it is breathtaking.  He LIVES here. And it’s a simple hut made of stuff of the earth and it is humble and glorious all at the same time.  OH my goodness this child lives in a mud hut!  A real one!

And we meet his aunt (I think?) who he lives with.  Topiwo’s mother died when he was young.  His aunt is absolutely wonderful and we do not speak the same language in words but we do have an interpreter and I can tell by how she speaks and her eyes and her face that she is nothing but maternal and I am in love with her.  And disclaimer: they do not smile when they pose for photos so even though she looks a little stern as soon as she started speaking and the camera was down she came alive.

So Topiwo had a sponsor since 2005 (before our family) but for some reason they cancelled so now we get to be his sponsor.

She talked and talked and told us how Compassion has helped their family over the last seven years, and oh my goodness this is the part where I tried to hold back tears. That area of Tanzania has experienced drought so Compassion has supplied the family with food. Maasai live off the land so they are immediately affected by drought. Even though Topiwo is the one sponsored, Compassion visits the home of all their children (his last home visit was in April) and they assess any needs of the family because they want to make sure that no one goes without food and basic health care.

Because of Compassion, now Topiwo can go to school, have a uniform and a pair of shoes and even get tutoring for his studies.  I ask her what she hopes for Topiwo’s future and she says for him to do well in school and succeed in life. And Compassion gives him that chance.

Meanwhile all the neighbors and family have gathered. There are babies and children and men and women and they all seem to know that Topiwo’s sponsor is here and they want to meet us all and shake our hands and they are so gracious and mild mannered. I am so grateful for the community that Topiwo is surrounded with–there are so many people here that know him and love him!  Such a different feel from the home yesterday.

We went inside the circular mud hut, it had a fire pit in the middle, a damp dirt floor, no windows at all–just a small hole and it’s really, really dark. There were two rooms and you could see thick branches like pillars holding up the structure from the inside and twigs and grass on the roof.  This is where they live.

he tried to look stern but this man was a sweetheart, patting Topiwo on the back from time to time

And we walked outside and you know what? As we were getting ready to leave I didn’t feel sad about where Topiwo lives.  I actually was incredibly happy for him because he is rich with love and community and joy and gracefulness.  Richer than a lot of people that I know.

Now if you have read this far this is where it gets worth it. On the outside of the home Topiwo had painted Psalm 23 and then his name and the names of others who live there.

Topiwo lives in a mud hut.

Do you remember how the 23rd Psalm starts?

Did I happen to mention that Topiwo lives in a mud hut? And that his family lives in Tanzania and didn’t have any food until Compassion stepped in?  This young man quietly declares his faith and I wondered about what message I am sending people when they walk through my front door?  Do I really believe that I have everything I need, or do I immediately launch into declaring what I don’t have and what isn’t good enough as soon as someone walks into my home?

This 15-year-old Tanzanian boy who lives in a mud hut is teaching me about how I think about my home and my life.

So I might get in trouble with Shaun Groves for doing this, I don’t know if we are allowed to be partial to a certain group of children but, I remember that Shaun said teenage boys are always the last to get picked for sponsorship.  So, as a mom of 3 boys in tween and teendom I stand on my soap box on behalf of the teenage boys who don’t currently have a sponsor and ask my fellow moms of boys :: will you and your boy sponsor a teenage boy today?

They are the near future of their community and are patiently waiting for us to release them from poverty.

And they also might teach you a thing or two about decorating.

**Photos by the fun and quirky and photogenic Keely Marie who does a great Kip voice.

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Nail Polish, Bubbles and $38

Today I want to tell you simply everything and then I keep sitting here looking at the computer and typing nothing. It’s just too much. And I can’t conjure up a great post and tie it neatly with the proverbial imperfectly beautiful bow.  I wish I knew some really great new, fancy, space age words that could somehow convince you beyond a shadow of a doubt how life altering it is for a child to be sponsored through Compassion International. Because when you see everything that we’ve seen in the past few days all you can think of is how much you want to do anything to make life better for these children living in poverty. And right now for me, that means using my words to help them and my computer clock says it’s 2:59 and my body clock says it’s too jet lagged and my Tanzania clock says  it’s 9:59 and I know I cannot do this.

I can’t write a compelling enough, good enough, worthy enough post of what we’ve seen. I wish my sister were here so she could make me laugh and then she could crank out a really beautifully crafted post and I could pretend I wrote it. But I also know you and I know you can make a decision to sponsor a child whether or not I use magical words because heart changing isn’t my job. It’s His.

I’ve walked on roads filled with trash, stepped over a muddy dirty bra on the ground, saw a baby crawling in 3 inches of mud (next to some kind of black duck squawking around) and then the baby grabbed a handful of mud and stuck it in its mouth.

I think tears have blurred up my eyes a thousand times today as children have greeted us with singing and grabbing for us to hold their hands. One pretty little girl politely punched another pretty little girl a little taller than herself just so she could get to hold my hand, and then smiled the most adorable smile {it’s exciting to have visitors}. Every person in our group had a swarm of little children around them grasping for hands and hugs and smiles–the children we met today were an extremely affectionate bunch.

The highlight of the day was being there as Amy met her sponsored child Mektreda and then getting to go with them to visit Mektreda’s home. It was a cinder block home that they rent and had a mattress and two plastic chairs and I think a table. Mektreda is one of five children, four of whom still live at home with their parents. The 17-year-old brother moved to the city to try to find work. Anyhow, Amy’s writing all about meeting her sponsored child at her blog so I beg of you, go read her story.  Really, all I want to do today is not write and tell you to go to Amy’s place.

a 30 second video of Mektreda and her new baby doll–her big sister ran and grabbed a wrap so she could wear the doll on her back just like all the real mammas click here to watch on you tube

And all I can think of is that if everyone could have witnessed that meeting and that home visit, everyone would immediately sponsor a child YESTERNOW .  The impact is unquestionable.  Children sponsored through Compassion can go to school (complete with uniforms) receive health care and learn about the biggest life changer–Jesus.  They have hope for a future and the parents have great hope for them as well–it really affects the entire family.

We spent a few hours with Mektreda’s family and learned how her mother helps to provide for them by roasting and packaging beans to sell at the local market. The daddy is handicapped but is able to repair shoes to help support the family too.  But still it’s not enough.

As for me, I feel like today my introversion has come out in full force.  I was able to be a fly on the wall and just watch the unfolding of great story. And while Amy was inside giving a few more gifts to Mektreda and her family, I stayed outside with a bunch of adorable children.  I blew bubbles.  They blew bubbles.  They popped bubbles tirelessly.  Then they popped more.

Then I pulled out the big guns–my blue nail polish.

I’ve never had so much fun painting nails in all of my life.  I painted the tiniest, darkest, sandiest little toenails you’ve ever seen.  It’s something I’ve never gotten to do, you know, since I have three boys. I never actually painted a child’s nails before. But today  I painted little girls’ toenails, little boys’ toenails, infant toenails and a young mother’s toenails.  It was glorious. And for some reason is one of the highlights of the trip so far.

I feel so helpless with my keyboard and blue nail polish and measly $38 sponsorship.  But I also feel so happy that my $38 is made HUGE when it’s in the hands of Compassion International.


I know you’ve been thinking about it, haven’t you?  I know you’ve been meaning to talk to your husband or let your kids help pick out which child you want to sponsor. I know because I put off sponsoring our first child for a year.  I had great intentions, I followed the bloggers and read the posts and thought, “YES, this is AMAZING, I am so going to sponsor a child tomorrow!”  But time passed and good intentions were forgotten and it wasn’t until a year later, when I followed the next blogger trip when I realized that if I didn’t just go right then and look at that page full of waiting faces and pick out a little child to sponsor that it would never happen. Don’t be like me.  So go ahead and do it now, because I promise you will thank me later.  Click here to sponsor a child through Compassion International.

Hosting A Girl’s Weekend

I hosted a girls weekend at my house last week and it was pure, unadulterated, 100% enjoyment–even the getting ready for six girls to be at my house all weekend.  I love hosting LOVE LOVE LOVE it.  I try to focus on doing things I like and I try to avoid doing things I hate–even when it comes to hosting.  I’ve learned that I enjoy decorating for a party with easy creative designs and I enjoy being able to cook for everyone but not to the point where it keeps me in the kitchen.

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Craft Day :: Finger Knitting

Last November Caroline and Angela and I met at a coffee shop one last time before Caroline moved away.  She gave us each a gift~ a finger knitted scarf she had made.  I promptly put mine around my neck, then put it on my Christmas tree and now it’s on my mantle.

Angela couldn’t get enough of it and insisted that Caroline show her how she made them and of course, that led us to Maggie’s blog and Maggies’s Finger Knitting Tutorial.  This is such a fun and easy project.  And I’m not even going to attempt to show you how to do it when my friend Maggie has already done the work. Want to see it in action? Here’s a video:

Finger knitting is a perfect craft day craft because once you get the hang of it, you can just sit and talk.  Angela brought buttons and paraphernalia for anyone who wanted to make a necklace, but, I’m working on making another garland so I can use it on our tree next year.  Angela has an entire post showing different yarns she’s used and necklaces and scarfs she’s made from finger knitting.

Want to see more craft day ideas?  You can follow our crafty day Pinterest board to find some fun inspiration–thanks Reeve for setting that up!

Do you have an idea for a super fun, easy, rewarding, talk while you do it craft we should try for craft day?  Tell us about it in the comments.

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Insert Appropriate Title Here


I’m thrilled and scared to death to announce that I have the incredible privilege to travel with Compassion this May to Tanzania to see the work they are doing and meet some of the children and families in the community.

For those of you who know me and my nonpassporty, homebody, I hate airplanes and only travel if I can have a direct flight ways, this is shocking news.  It’s shocking to me.  I am still in shock. This is not something I ever dreamed of doing, this was something I was afraid that Shaun Groves would somehow, one day, for some random reason, find me and ask me to do and I can assure you I promptly told him “Absolutely not I am not flying halfway around the world, I am so sorry. NO” for about five weeks.  And last week I was in agony.  I had already told him NO.  Not for me.  Not me. Go Away. You should ask someone who actually wants to do this. Please don’t ever contact me again.  I am changing my phone number and email address. Never gonna happen.  No.

Castle Home Wear

(want to pin this on pinterest? great, please click over to the etsy shop first to pin from the source thanks so much!)

But, I simply could not stop thinking about Tanzania.  That was the agonizing part.  My dear husband put up with me talking about it nonstop.  He just smiled and encouraged me to not be afraid to take a risk but also not feel like I had to go.   I must have talked to my sister every day.  I cried. I was in misery, I curled up in the fetal position.  I couldn’t sleep. I shook {I’m shaking now}. I didn’t want to leave home.  I didn’t want to be away.  I hate travel.  I have never been away from my family for that long.  This is scary.  This is risky. What if I don’t do a good job writing?  What if they wish they hadn’t asked an introverted house blogger who writes about paint colors?

But all of those reasons piled together still didn’t seem like a good enough reason for me to say NO.  I didn’t like the reasons I was saying no.  And we talk about risk here and being afraid and I want to be a person that can Trust and not worry within that risk and fear.

If you were here last year you might remember me talking about the trip my sister took with Compassion and other bloggers to The Philipines.  Many of my (in)courage friends have gone in the past and for this trip, there are some amazing writers that I’m so honored to get to travel with, one of which is my dear friend, Maggie Whitley from Gussy Sews.


hand drawn chalkboard map via Dirtsa Studio

(to pin on pinterest, please click over to the etsy shop & pin directly from the source thank you!)

Our family sponsors two boys through Compassion, both a direct result of following bloggers who have gone on trips and written about the people they’ve met and stories they saw.  Many times I’ve read what these travelers have written on their trip and felt like I myself had been there.

I have still have so many pressing questions that keep me up at night like::

what if I lose my passport?

what if I get falsely accused and imprisoned while in another country?

what if I forget how to drive after being gone for 10 days?

what if this is a fake Shaun Groves and the real one has been kidnapped and this fake person is going to kidnap us all?

what if I have to poo while I’m in Africa?

But really I am so scared. This is the scariest most out of my comfort zone solar system, most unlike me thing I’ve ever done in my life.  And I don’t want to do it without you.  I want you to come with me here through the magical power of the internet.

Will you?

Compassion Bloggers: Tanzania 2012