Newbery Goal Progress

You would have to be a very avid blog-reader of ours to notice it. Maybe you would have noticed that a number of the books on the "We're reading" sidebar had little gold stickers on them. Maybe you would have then remembered that we had previously stated our goal of reading all of the Newberys and ranking them according to our own preference. Maybe you then would have clicked on this link on the sidebar and seen our growing list and have done some quick math.

But the fact is this: We are more than halfway there. The Newbery Medal was first awarded in 1922, and so this year was (I guess) the 90th Newbery, and we have crossed over 45. And by ransacking the libraries of all the homeschooling moms of Tenwek, we should be able to get close to 55 before leaving Kenya. Pretty good progress for living in Africa.

And we've been ranking them. A couple have even warmed their way into our top 10, and one of them earned the dubious honor of replacing Sounder as the worst Newbery we've ever read.

Here's a couple of our favorites:

A Year Down Yonder (2001): This didn't make the top 10, but was sent us by our friend Janet Tang, and was just a purely fun book, probably the best of the newer ones we've been reading. The story of a city girl who ends up in rural Michigan with her grandma during a recession in the 1940's. But the heart of the story is that her grandma is just an amazingly crazy character.

Secret of the Andes (1953): If you're wondering why Charlotte's Web didn't win a Newbery, the answer is that it came out the same year as this book. And as much as I like that "some pig", and was pleased to not see him bite the big bacon, I liked this book better. Opening scene high up in the Andes, a young llama herder looks down to see, for the first time in his life, other people.

The Wheel on the School (1955): Just a fantastically told little tale about a group of Dutch school children, living in a small fishing village on the dike, and their quest to bring storks back to their village. Full of redemption and setting. Illustrations by the guy who did "Where the Wild Things Are", but that's really secondary to the great story.

The Matchlock Gun (1942): And lastly, our new least favorite (though even some of the low ones are still good). Maybe it was a slow year. A 25-minute read about a young boy who fires his gun and kills some Indians. It ends with his mom injured by a tomahawk. Does she live? Who knows? Maybe that wasn't the point of the story. But what was the point?

All in all, our recommendations. It's been a lot of fun, and we recommend most of them.

But don't take our word for it!


Baby Shower

I wasn't expecting a baby shower this time around, since it was my second child, and living in rural Kenya means baby things are rather hard for people to get. But here at Tenwek, opportunities to celebrate life events are rarely missed, and Ben was the first missionary kid born here in probably 6 years or more. So my friends conspired to plan a surprise shower for me, and it was a surprise! There is usually a womens' Bible study on Thursday nights and Eric encouraged me to go (and bring Ben with me) when he was just 3 days old. I had no idea. So here I am, walking in the door with baby, headlamp, and study book in hand...completely shocked to see decorations and 20 women staring at me!Ben got lots of wonderful gifts, including lots of disposable diapers shaped into a cake.
This is about what he looked like the whole time, to the delight of everyone who passed him around the room!
Theresa, ever the quntessential hostess, laid out quite a spread with tasty banana punch, cupcakes, etc.
Check out the cute little duckies on the cupcakes! All handmade, wow.
Jess, Alyssa, Ben, and me (it was obviously a surprise to me or I would have put my contacts in to come to the party!)
Almost all the women on the compound came to help celebrate, more than twice as many as are in our Bible study.
Opening some of the cute gifts: this is an elephant backpack that is about the same size as Ben right now, but he'll grow into it I'm sure.
It has been wonderful to share in the birth and life of Ben with my community here at Tenwek. Thanks, everyone!



In the three weeks surrounding Ben's birth, we've had quite the slew of visitors! (all unrelated to his arrival, but keeping us on our toes) It has been great to see so many familiar and friendly faces from home.

The first visitor was our friend Luke Tomycz, one of Eric's classmates from U of MI. He is a neurosurgery resident at Vanderbilt in Nashville, so we get to see him every time we visit Eric's family, and he came out to Kijabe for a 2 wk elective/vacation. We only got to see him for about 24 hrs, but it was a great visit none the less! He had to leave early on Sunday morning, so if it looks like we all just got up in the picture...we did. :)
Then, a surprise visit from Aaron and Ginnie Abarbanell! Ginnie was Rachel's mentor at Loma Linda through the Christian Medical/Dental Assoc for 2 years, and Aaron then ended up being a classmate of Eric's at U of MI. They were indirectly responsible for Eric and Rachel hooking up. :) Our paths have crossed many times over the past 10 years, and they happened to be in Eldoret (3-4 hrs away) for just a short time. They came the weekend after Ben was born, also for about 24 hrs.
Steve Telian, an elder and mentor from Knox, arrived at Tenwek the day Rachel went into labor! He was here for a week visiting the McCropders and working at the hospital (he's an ear specialist). While we were rather distracted that week, it was still wonderful to spend as much time with Steve as we could, showing him our world, bouncing ideas off of him, and getting wise advice.
Finally, just this week we welcomed Mick and Diana Antanitis from Belmont Church in Nashville, where Eric and his family have been members for many years. Mick is the missions pastor and was speaking at a few seminary graduations in the "area." They took a 2 day detour and stayed with us. We had some great conversations and both Mick and Diana enjoyed observing surgeries, deliveries, and rounds at the hospital.
So. Anyone else want to come visit? We have a guest room now... :)


Benjamin's Passport Photos

1 week old is never too young to get working on your passport. With the help of a friend, I went down to the Bomet district office when Ben was 3 days old, and landed him a Kenyan birth certificate. Complete with correct spellings. Much thanks to Musyoka, because I certainly never could have navigated that place myself.

And so now that we have it, we are working on getting Ben a US passport and a Social Security Number, which is a process formally known as "Consular Report of a Birth Abroad", which first involves emailing a million forms to the Embassy (15 megabytes of attachments, you can only guess how long that took on our internet), then an appointment at the Embassy, which we're hoping will be early April, when we next go into Nairobi.

So it was time for Ben's passport photos. Maggie has been through this drill twice. Here's the first time and then the second time. They actually have a couple similar photos. In Ben's case, I think we might have a better photo, all the better since Maggie's newborn photo is still her passport photo, and will be for a while.


Happy St. Patrick's Day

...from our 2 semi-Irish, green-clad kiddos.


Maggie & Ben

Ben is now a little over a week old and we are loving being the parents of TWO kids. Fortunately, Maggie has continued to enjoy her little brother, termed "Baby Ben." Other than continuously trying to steal his pacifiers, she has been nothing but affectionate. In the mornings and after naps, she immediately asks where he is and goes off in search of him (usually found sleeping in Mommy and Daddy's room). "Baby Ben!! Nap!!" She'll already fetch hats, diapers, and blankets for him as well (whether he needs them or not). Hopefully this sibling love continues for years to come!

Here she is singing him a song, probably from her favorite VeggieTales video, although we weren't quite sure of the melody. Ben, duly impressed with his sister's musical skills, is yawning in his carseat."Napping" with her baby brother.


Mousey Rides Again!

Some know Mousey from their earliest days of infancy. Some may remember this entity from when we boasted of Maggie's Mousey a couple years ago.

Well, Eric's Grammy (and Maggie and Ben's Great Grammy) is still pouring all her love into these little guys, and just sent us a picture of Ben and Liam's twin Mouseys, which will be waiting for Benjamin on his return to the US in the fall. One more great thing to look forward to! Thanks so much, Great Grammy!


Liam Knox Durham

When we left the US in December 2009, we took the only McLaughlin grandchild with us. Shortly thereafter, Sierra was born, and then Sami and Rachel were on a race to the finish line, being due only one day apart.

Primarily because Kenyans are, by nature, good long-distance runners, Rachel finished the race first, and Benjamin was born on March 7th (Kenya time, which is the birthday we're choosing). But on March 12th, Liam Knox Durham was also born healthy to Sami and Jonathan. It was quite a long road for Sami, but it's over now, and we rejoice with them.

We look forward to the ever-growing McLaughlin family, and especially for Maggie having a girl cousin within a year of her, and Benjamin having a boy cousin within a week of him!

Highest congrats to Sami and Jonathan, on the beginning of their journey as (I'm sure they will be) wonderful parents. And special congrats to Dave and Becky Durham, on the arrival of their first grandchild.


Little Boy

Being at Tenwek, we have limited ultrasound capability. The first two ultrasounds looked like a girl. The third thought maybe a boy. The fourth confirmed a girl. The fifth called it into question. The sixth seemed to clinch a boy, but how sure can you be after needing six scans. So we stopped looking. Nevertheless, we will always have this lovely gift to remind us of the saga. I guess Maggie can wear hers and maybe some other later girl will enjoy the other.

Nevertheless, here's our little boy, decked in blue, which has no gender connotation whatsoever in Kenyan culture. He's looking a little tired, but he's doing fine.


The Last Walk Up the Hill

For those of you who have never been to Tenwek (most of you), let me describe the local topography. The part of Kenyan where we live is very hilly and green, a beautiful place to live. The hospital was built on the very top of one of the hills, and the missionary homes are a bit farther down the same hill. What this means is an uphill climb to work every day. This was my greatest undoing during pregnancy and what I was most happy to give up when my maternity leave started on March 1. We're not talking a small hill here. To get from our house to the hospital, I first go down a flight of stairs (our apartment is on the second floor), walk up a sidewalk to the road, walk uphill on the poorly paved road to 2 flights of stairs (the lower gate), and then walk up either a ramp and flight of stairs or 2 more flights of stairs to the room where we start morning education with the interns every day. I'm not sure of the elevation change but it's substantial. On my last day of work, Eric and I joked that the only trip left up the hill was to be the "last walk" up the hill when I headed up in labor.

March 7th was to be the day of the last walk. My contractions started in the mid afternoon on the 6th, and by that evening we knew the baby was coming sooner rather than later. Of course, Maggie had taken many hours so we were in no hurry, and I wanted to labor at home as long as possible. The power was out, a daily occurrence here, but the strange part was that instead of turning back on around 8 or even 9pm, it never came back on, so I labored my candlelight (nice ambiance, right?!). By 1am the contractions were coming every 2 minutes and pretty intense, so our OB Bryan Popp came down and checked me and we decided to head up to the hospital. It took about 15 minutes with stopping for contractions, but we made it to OB where the kind nurses opened up our OB operating room (usually just open 8-5 during the week for C/S) and voila! My own private delivery room.

Turns out the walk up the hill is good for labor, because as soon as we got it, Bryan broke my water and I started pushing. Twenty minutes later, Benjamin Kenneth Kipruto McLaughlin came into the world at 2:36am (Kipruto will be his honorary Kipsigis name, from the tribe we are working among. It means "boy born while travelling, and every male in the Kipsigis tribe has a Kip name that means something specific). He weighed 8 pounds, 5 oz (just 6 oz shy of his big sister, although he was also a week early). We are so blessed! Things could not have gone smoother. I had not one by TWO great OBs there (Bryan's wife Toanh, also an OB, came to help out as well). Our friend and fellow McCropder Alyssa came up to be our personal pediatrician. We had a quick delivery with a totally healthy little boy in a private setting (not easy in the Tenwek maternity ward). And we have a great community, too--Heather Fader watched the Popp kids so the Popps could be there, and the Cropseys watched Maggie. It takes a village to birth a baby here. :)

The other blessing is that things went so smoothly that we felt comfortable coming home within three hours after the delivery. With Maggie I could barely stand up afterwards, but praise God, I am feeling so much better this time around! Eric carried Ben and although we got some odd looks from the nurses on our way out, it was good to be home. Downhill all the way. We arrived home at 5:30 and the power was still out, so we relit the candles, fed Ben, and fell into bed. A good last walk.


Song of the King

For several months last year, I was pretty haunted by the fall of King David. I wish I were more haunted by biblical stories. I say "fall" because, though he remained faithful to a certain extent, the events following Bathsheba and Uriah certainly have a markedly dissimilar note to everything that preceded it. And the big question is why. He found forgiveness, and in fact, that story is often used as an example of true repentance. But in the end, I can't ignore the sense that David himself was always afterward haunted by the departure of God's blessing (meaning that, whether the blessing actually left or not, David seemed to fear that it had). You can read 2 Samuel yourself, and let me know what you think.

So I wrote a song a while back, and thought I'd post it here. Click on the title to find the recording that you can download and listen to. Thanks to Clayton for the instruction on the mp3 player. Hopefully it works. Enjoy.

Ever since I fell
Ever since I lied
Ever since I sent him to the front line
And he died

Ever since you took him
The son of my own name
Ever since I took my neighbor's only lamb
To my shame

The world is fumbling in my hands
Stumbling all my plans
Crumbling where I stand

Now my sight is dimmed
Now I'm being cursed
Maybe now I am getting all
that I've deserved

Now I leave these city walls
Now Absalom has come
Maybe you have brought him here
and maybe I should run

Has favor come and gone
And now judgement in its stead?
In any shade
Let me fall into your hand.

Now they want me back
Now a broken man
To lead them from the throne again
But I don't think I can

Now Absalom is gone
Another son in the grave
Maybe you wanted me to stay and fight
Maybe then he would be saved


Made It!

March 1, the day I start my maternity leave...2 wks before the due date. Ah. When I was pregnant with Maggie I worked until the day after my due date, and she was born the next morning, so in some ways I feel like a little bit of a weenie stopping 2 wks early. It seems different this time, though. I don't know if it's the 6500 ft altitude, the entirely uphill + 3 flights of stairs walk to the hospital every morning, the toddler I now have to chase around when I come home, or maybe just amnesia about what exactly happened last time, but I am exhausted!

Preparing to have a baby in Kenya seems completely different to me as well. Eric and I had to come up with a plan last night. No longer is it just, pack a bag, wait for labor, and go to the hospital where I know all the nurses and can request a nice private room with hardwood floors, a delivery bed, and a jacuzzi tub (and the possibility of an epidural, just in case I need it). I do have 2 great OBs (the Popps!) who know me and will do a great job, I'm sure. But no private room, minimal privacy, no nurse to monitor my baby's heart beat on a regular basis, and definitely no jacuzzi tub! In fact, I packed a bag this morning and included things like, my only baby monitor, a hat, diapers, and a blanket...because the hospital doesn't always have these items on hand. Eric and I came up with plans on how long I actually needed to stay at the hospital after the delivery if things go ok (2hrs? 4?) and the best way to get home (walk down the hill? drive the van?). I am even making my own ice packs, since the hospital has no ability to make ice. I thought that the second baby would seem easier because I've been through it all once before, and maybe it will be, but the unknowns are so much greater! I don't even know if this kiddo will be a boy or a girl, since our ultrasound machine isn't very good. All I really want, all I really pray for in the end, though, is a healthy baby.

Things I look forward to being able to do in the next couple weeks:
Meeting/holding my son or daughter
Being able to set my son or daughter down
Bending over
For Kenyans to stop staring at my gigantic belly (apparently not so rude here?)
For clothes that fit again

Hopefully we'll be posting an update soon! :)