Schoolhouse Rock vol. 63: Finding a Man

Today was an exciting day in kindergarten.

Our favorite fake band – Koo Koo Kangaroo came and did a concert for us, AND Jill’s husband brought her kids in to meet our class.  This of course led the children to have many questions about when my children and husband would be coming in to meet them.  This then led to deep sadness when I told them I have neither children nor a husband.

They did however have some helpful advice for me.

Child 1: I think maybe you can just go on eHarmony.  There are lots of people on there.

Child 2: Ok, here is what you do.  First, you need to get real pretty.  Comb your hair, do your nails, put on some make-up, wear a cute dress and your high heels.  Put on a little spray.  Next, you need to go knock on his door.  When he answers, say, “Hi, will you be my husband?”  If he says no, just go to another door.  If he says yes, you can go home and pack up all your stuff and move in.  That is what my mom did!

I promised Child 2 that if he strategies work, she can be my flower girl.

Fingers crossed!!

Schoolhouse Rock vol. 62: What is love?

And the annual valentine’s edition of:

Love According to Kindergartners

Love is a heart.

Love is when we love each other.

Love is giving people stuff that they love something.  Like a love toy.

Love is when you give hugs and when you give kisses.

Love is caring and kind and being nice.

Love means you give hugs and kisses to each other on Valentine’s Day.

Love means that you love your parents.

Love is when you love someone and you want to be kind to your friends.

Love is like when you love somebody and you give some valentines stuff to them.

Love means that you love another person.

Love is valentines.

Love is you love somebody.  You love your mom or your dad, your brothers or your sisters.  You can give presents and cards to your family and aunties.  And you say Happy Valentine’s Day.

Love is you are thankful for people.  You give hugs and kisses to your mom and your dad.

Love is friends and family.

Love is you love people a lot.  You give presents to the people you love.  You give valentines stuff if you like them. They give you a little box of chocolate and you like them a lot.

Love is that you care for somebody.

Love is you like your mom.

Love is when you want to spend time with someone and you can give them candy.

Love is that you love people.  If you want people to love you, you don’t have to hit them.

Love is something that you give something to people and when you show a heart to them, you say “I love you.”  You be nice to them.

Love is Valentine’s Day.

Love is when you can be nice.

Love is heart.  Love dad.

Love my mom.  I love Miss Karsjens.

Love is loving people.  Like you love your mom or friends or dad or cousins.

Schoolhouse Rock vol. 61

It is Thanksgiving week in kindergarten.  (well, and in life).   Today we did some Thanksgiving writing:

Save a turkey!  Eat more _________.   My top two responses were: “Save a turkey, eat more sushi” and “Save a turkey, eat more zebra.”  pardon???

At the writing center they are making books where they write their friends’ names after the prompt, I am thankful for… I overheard a student pull out a name and say, “Yes!  I am thankful for E**** because his name is short!”

After I read them a turkey recipe from allrecipes.com, they also shared with me how to cook a turkey.  I hope that you find some of these tips helpful in cooking up your own Thanksgiving dinner.

You put him the oven and then you.. wait, don’t you kill it before you cook it?  And then you make him….  Then you kill him and then you…  This question’s hard!

You pull the feather.  Put it in the microwave for 16 hours.  Put it in the oven and eat it!

You take the leaves off.  Then you put salt on it.  Then you rub the turkey.  Then put the turkey in the oven for 30 minutes.  Then next you in the morning you put it in the oven.  You leave it there for 35 minutes.  Then you cut carrots and you put one big leaf under the turkey.

You get the turkey from the store.  Then you cook it in your house or at someone else’s house.  You cook it in the oven in a pot.  The oven is 50 degrees.  You cook it for 63 hours.

You go to the farm and get the turkey.  You cook it in a pot for 103 hours. Put water on it.

You keep it in the microwave for 20 seconds and you put the water on there for 9 seconds.  You put it in a big pan and you scrub the pointy sides off with a knife or something.  Then you bake the sides in a little pot.  You put it in the oven for 30 minutes.

You get the turkey from the farmer.  You hide it.  Show it to your mom.  Don’t cook it, because the turkey don’t want to die.

Didn’t Summer JUST Start??

Hi Friends (and strangers),

I have spent much of the last week volunteering my time at work to get my classroom set up.  I have a champ of a student teacher who has my room looking shinier and cleaner than it ever has before.  Although summer ending is always a little (ok, a lot) sad, there is also a part of me that is excited for new opportunities, meeting my new students, and the chance to try new things in my teaching.

I know that as summer comes to a close, you are probably looking at your wallet and thinking, “Wow, how do I have so much money in here?”  ;) Well, if you are looking for a good cause for your extra dollars (or if you really like helping out kids and schools -specifically my kids and my school), I want to tell you that I put up a project on Donors Choose and  I’m hoping to get a couple of iPad minis for my classroom.  Minis because their cost is also miniature in comparison to the cost of full size iPads.  And minis because my students are also miniature (in comparison to adults or elephants).

Buying multiple iPads for my classroom is something that I doubt will ever be in the cards for my school district – we struggle a wee bit financially.  But I can totally see how they would be a huge benefit to my students.  My dream is to be able to use them during literacy and math centers.  Students would rotate through, getting opportunities to use apps that I have chosen specially for them, to target skills they need to work on.

Our goal is to have all of our students reading on grade level by third grade.  This is no easy task when most of them start kindergarten already behind.

No pressure, but I wanted to let you know the opportunity is there – because maybe it would bless you to be able to partner with me as much as it would bless me and my students to have these new learning tools.

For the next 7 days, Donors Choose is matching any donations I receive.  Just put the code INSPIRE in when you make a donation.  Here is a link to my project with all the details. 

Thanks! :)

Goodbyes are not forever. Right?

We all knew it would happen sooner or later – my departure date was looming in front of me on the calendar, getting closer and closer. Who knew that a month would go so fast?

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As tradition has it, we had a “camp out” on my last night in Uganda. After glow-sticks, s’mores, and devos by the fire, the kids all stood up and said thank you’s to me – thank you for coming to us from America, thank you for loving us well, thank you for all the activities, thank you for being our auntie, thank you for all the fun… when it was Emma’s turn, he just stood up and cried. So naturally I did too. Brenda then prayed for me. When the kids pray, usually one person leads the prayer, phrase by phrase, and then the other kids echo what they said. Yes, our kids have sweet little African accents, but this was the most ridiculous prayer ever – no one could really tell what Brenda was saying half the time, and the versions of her prayer that were repeated were outlandish phrases that meant nothing. Laughter is a good remedy for tears.

The kids made me cards – and I will treasure them all. The one that I think meant the most to me was a letter from Oscar. He gave it to me the night before I left. It was written on his personal stationary. I don’t know where he got this stationary set – maybe his sponsor sent it to him, maybe it was a Christmas gift, maybe it was a prize for good behavior. All I know is that he carried it around with him all the time and looked at the paper and envelopes, but rarely used it. Oscar has been having a difficult time lately – when I arrived, I immediately noticed that he was not the same happy carefree kid that I knew last summer.  It took a while to build back our relationship and have him interact with me in a positive way with smiles and giggles and jokes. I didn’t take it lightly that he cared enough to write to me on his personal stationary.

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Then I tucked the kiddos in. They were full of their usual hilarious antics – “falling out of bed” while I am praying so I open my eyes and find them sprawled out on the floor, climbing off their bunk onto my back while I’m tucking in the kid on the bunk below them, and surround sound giggles at all times. Despite the general ridiculousness, I prayed over each of them – praying for their future, that God will protect them and raise them up into men and women who love Him. I cried throughout the whole bedtime routine, but at one point, I was holding sweet Carol in my arms and she reached around my head and took my ponytail and used it to dry my tears. Equal parts hilarious and endearing.

I love these kids like they are my own. It broke my heart to say goodbye to them, but it hurt a little less because I know that I came back once, and perhaps someday I will come back to Uganda again.  Goodbyes are hard, but at least I know that it doesn’t have to be forever.

Activities with Auntie Laura

Other than being generally awesome (jk) the thing I am most well known for at Rafiki is coming with a plethora of activities for the kids. In fact, this summer, when Joshua got home from school on my first day in town he immediately asked me if I brought activities for them.

Creativity isn’t really a thing at school in Uganda. Kids aren’t taught to think for themselves. They also aren’t taught to read from books. Being a kindergarten teacher, I am a big believer in all of these things. Thanks to generous supporters, both summers I’ve ended up with extra money that I’ve been able to spend at Oriental Trading, buying kits for tons of crafts. Thanks to my mom and the scholastic warehouse sale, I’m also able to bring lots of books.

After the kids eat their snack and before bathing time, it is prime activity time. I like to start with a book so we learn a little something, and then turn them loose with a craft or project. The best is when we can follow it up with a game with Auntie Jessica. I’ve been proud of the kids this summer – not only are their fine motor skills improved upon from last summer, but also they are a lot more independent and willing to try new things. Last summer I constantly battled against their school-ingrained need to copy from an example and make theirs exactly like mine. I’m proud of my sweet kiddos for their learning and growth.

Highlights include:

  • Pinwheels. They actually worked! And the kids ran around like crazy people forEVER to make them spin. It was great because it wore them out. It was hilarious because they watched the pinwheels and not where they were going. Many collisions ensued.
  • Black scratch paper that reveals colors below the black layer when you scratch it off. The kids all were shaking their wooden sticks to try and get new colors. Hilarious.
  • Minute to win it games that I somehow made connect to a Bible story. Yes, cotton balls stuck to your nose with petroleum jelly can totally be connected to Jesus being our shepherd.
  • Glow sticks at campfires.
  • Making leis – I was actually super impressed by the way they stuck with it! (well, except for Don. He discovered the shortcut of using a lot of straws and few flowers).

One afternoon, while we were sitting around the table working on an art project, one of the kids said, “Auntie Laura, why do you bring us activities?” and without missing a beat, Joel replied, “It is because she loves us, right Auntie Laura?” “Yes, that is absolutely why.” I’m glad that in addition to snuggles and games, the kids also speak the love language of activities.

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Amazima. Amazing.

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Several years ago, before I even considered coming to Uganda, I stumbled across the blog of this girl named Katie, who moved to Uganda after high school to teach kindergarten. She blogged incredible stories of trusting God, working hard & praying harder, fostering Ugandan girls, providing meals and medical care, and helping out in the slums. It is one of the few blogs that I went back and read in its entirety and was amazed at the story God was writing in Katie’s life and through Katie’s life. She started a ministry just outside of Jinja called Amazima (which means truth in Luganda). She more recently wrote a book called Kisses from Katie that helped raise money for Amazima.

When I decided to come to Uganda the first time, I met with Drew, a guy from my church who made our church website, because the website for the organization I’d be heading over with was, well, lacking a bit. Drew was super helpful in teaching me about the internet (or more specifically how to make a website without knowing any coding) and he was excited that I was heading to Uganda because his buddy Brad was working over there… with an organization called Amazima.

This summer when I got off the plane and Kailey met me at the airport, she kept saying, “ok, I was going to wait to tell you this, but I think you’re going to be really excited” and then would tell me more plans for my time in Uganda. One of these plans was to head to the nearby city of Jinja for a day. We would be visiting the Nile in the morning, and in the afternoon were heading over to Amazima.

Drew’s friend Brad met up with us and a large group of high schoolers when we arrived at Amazima. (Actually, we also saw him at the restaurant we ate lunch at, but didn’t want to seem like stalkers, so we didn’t say hello until we were supposed to meet with him in the afternoon at Amazima’s property). Brad told us all about what Amazima does and how they run their ministry.

I have visited quite a few organizations in Uganda and volunteered at several of them. I always love seeing how God is at work in Uganda… but I must say that Amazima is one of the few organizations that I am 100% on board with both their vision and they manner in which they carry out their vision.

Amazima is all about keeping families together and teaching, training, and providing other sustainable practices to the Ugandans. For example, when Brad first came over it was was to build a playground one summer. Katie didn’t want a team to just come in and build a playground for the kids. (Multiple groups had offered to do this). Rather, she wanted it to be done in a way that was beneficial to the community. Brad had both construction (I think) and teaching background and when he came. He worked with a group of Ugandan guys from the community to teach them to build a playground and they constructed it together.

They currently have a program called Farming God’s Way in which they have a couple of fields to show the outcome of traditional Ugandan farming methods and this different method.  They teach people in the community a new way to farm that better cares for the land and also provides a better crop yield.

On Saturdays, kids in their program come for Bible lessons and a good meal and general fun. Each kid who is in their sponsorship program is assigned a Ugandan social worker who works with their families and helps them with any current needs. When children are orphaned, abandoned, or have other trauma or hardship in their lives, Amazima works to find a person or family in the community to take them in and care for them.

They also have a program with the Masese people in a slum, which they acknowledge is more of a handout program, but the needs there go so deep that they have to start somewhere.  One really awesome thing they do in this community is provide free pre-school to the kids there, with the hope that it will not only give these kiddos a safe place to be during they day instead of sitting outside the school gate while older siblings attend class, but also will give them a stronger foundation with which to being primary school AND hopefully give parents a better understanding of the importance of education in their children’s lives.

We were able to take a look around Amazima’s property. It is beautiful. One building we went in is where they will be storing grain so that they can buy it from local farmers and give them a fair price, unlike some businesses that will buy it at a cheap price (because everyone’s crop is harvested at the same time, so there is more supply than demand) store it, and then sell it back at high prices when there is more demand than supply.

They recently have built a clinic and are dreaming about what God might have them do next. Brad shared a little bit of their potential future plans, and I was really excited to hear about them, as they line up so well with my heart and my dreams for Uganda.

Here are some links you should check out:

Amazima

Amazima’s Blog

Kisses from Katie 

The Journey: Katie’s Blog

Here are some pictures of this awesome place. Including one of me and Brad that I super awkwardly made him take, so that I could show Drew and Kelly that I did indeed meet their friend. I do my best to create awkward moments wherever I go…

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The Nile

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On my last Friday in Uganda, we piled into the van and headed to Jinja. I was so excited when I found out that we would be going to Jinja during my stay, and even more excited when I learned that in the afternoon we’d be visiting Amazima. More on that later. In the morning, we went to the Nile and took a boat ride.

It was pretty awesome. We were in a tour boat that was kinda like a large canoe with a canopy. We had a guide who told us about the plants, animals, and the river. We watched as Ugandan fisherman set out to work for the day. We drifted along the shore and watched monkeys playing in the trees overhead and birds hopping from one low-hanging branch to another. As we were sitting, innocently watching all the nature, our guide pointed out a black snake slithering through the grass near the water’s edge. He announced that it was a cobra. Yep – that sufficiently freaked me out. I mean, we had water between us, so I felt 90% safe. But yikes! We also saw a monitor lizard, which was pretty great.

After all the animal watching, we boated over to a small man-made island. The island is located at the source of the Nile. The Nile gets some of its water from Lake Victoria (Sorry JaNahn, I was really close to being in Lake Victoria, even though I’ve promised you I would never do such a thing) but it also gets like 30% of its water from an underground spring. That spring is marked with a source of the Nile sign, where we were able to get out of the boat, wade in the water and take pictures. Enjoy some pictures of our day!

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Kampala City Tour

One day Joseph took the team on a tour of Kampala. It was a fascinating day – we heard a lot of the same bits of history from different perspectives and by the end of the day had a more complete understanding of Ugandan history, tribes, and current politics.

Our first stop was the national museum. We had a guide walk us through and teach us about the various exhibits. One of the things I found most interesting is that the people used to make cloth out of birch bark. Today in the craft markets, you can buy paintings on it.

We also went to the Kasubi Tombs. These are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We sat for quite a while and learned about the four Buganda kings who are buried there. The Buganda tribe doesn’t believe their kings die… Rather they refer to them as having disappeared. The kings can also take any woman they like as their wife. Even if she is already married. So that would kinda suck (although they would see it as an honor). We learned about who studied in England and brought western ideas to Uganda. We also learned that any son except the oldest is eligible to be the next king. The current king can make a recommendation in his will, but a council of sorts makes the final decision. Also, there is still a president of Uganda who is elected. The king makes decisions for his tribe, but they are still under the laws of the country. Anyways, after all that, we went to the actual tombs to learn that they burned down a few years ago – so we actually saw a construction sight instead. That was a bit of a letdown.

We also went to the Mosque. It is the second largest mosque in Africa. There is a large Muslim population in Uganda – especially in Kampala. We learned a bit about Islam, but out of respect, we also needed to wear long skirts and cover our heads. After our tour, we had the chance to climb a tower and look out over the city. It was gorgeous.

Our next stop was the head building from the Buganda Kingdom, where the king meets with his people. We sat in the large meeting hall, and learned about how to properly address to king as either a male or female.

We went down the road and saw the presidential home, which is modeled after Buckingham Palace, but on a much smaller scale. While we were there, we also visited Ida Amin’s torture chambers. It was super eerie and especially disconcerting that this happened in such recent history.

We headed back to the house feeling exhausted from so much learning, but satisfied by all our learning. I wish I had learned this stuff about Ugandan culture last summer. It was super helpful to have this greater understanding.

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First Official Rafiki Talent Show

I think that one of the best events we’ve ever planned for the kids is a talent show.

Jessica and Hunter created a stage with a back curtain. Emily and I figured out a way to get the CD player outside at a hear-able distance from the stage. Jess and I made awards for all the kids. It was delightful.

We sat them down and I explained the concept of a talent show to the kids. Jessica then made a list of all the talents that they would be showing. We had quite a few dancers, but a few more creative submissions. Esther signed up to sign a song with her sister Brenda. They wore matching outfits. It was kind of amazing. Carol signed up to build a castle with blocks. Cocus played football (soccer) with Joel. Jerom signed up for cartwheels and Christmas. We weren’t really sure what that meant, so we played Christmas music while he did cartwheels on stage. It was all quite amazing. I haven’t laughed and cheered that loud in a long time. Our kids have some seriously impressived (and seriously unique) skills. Joel closed out the evening in prayer, thanking God for each of our talents, IMG_8214

Annet managed to successfully combine: Dancing, Silly Faces, and Running

Annet managed to successfully combine: Dancing, Silly Faces, and Running

Sister singing duo

Sister singing duo

Castle building extraordinaire

Castle building extraordinaire

Christmas and Cartwheel (and awesome 90s clothes)

Christmas and Cartwheel (and awesome 90s clothes)

Fauziya dancing

Fauziya dancing

Dance Party (inspired by pitch perfect)

Dance Party (inspired by pitch perfect)

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Brenda blowed bubbles.  It was a real crowd pleaser!

Brenda blowed bubbles. It was a real crowd pleaser!

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Oscar's balloon routine

Oscar’s balloon routine

Joel and Joshua

Joel and Joshua

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Does it get cuter than Don and Esther dancing?

Does it get cuter than Don and Esther dancing?

Joel praying at the end of the night

Joel praying at the end of the night

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