Operation Suitcase Organization

2014 was a year that had a lot of travel and plenty of time living out of suitcases. After looking in my suitcase in January and seeing that I had delicate dress clothes packed along with boxes of macaroni and cheese (to take back with us to South Africa for the kids), I decided it was time to make an investment in how I packed.

I am excited to report that I am thrilled with the choice I made. I’m sure there are other good products out there. But I chose Eagle Creek packing cubes (and no, they are not paying me to write this). There are two styles. The regular cubes zip three-fourths of the way around so you can open it up really nice and see the clothes you packed in it. I’ve found that I really like these for my work clothes when I am traveling for work. These cubes are rather inexpensive. But, these cubes weigh a little bit more than another choice Eagle Creek has. Since every ounce is precious on the international 50 pound weight limit, I’ll likely leave these at home when traveling internationally.

The lightweight packing cubes (also by Eagle Creek) are from their Specter line. They are more expensive but if you are counting the ounces in your luggage, I think they are worth it. They fold down to nothing and weigh barely anything. They don’t quite unzip three-fourths of the way around, though, so I find them a little bit more difficult to use when traveling. If I’ve placed a line of about 5 t-shirts, each one rolled up, into the cube, it’s a little difficult to see the one down in the bottom. Also, because they are so lightweight, they have less structure than the others, unless completely full. Thus, they seem to work better for my casual clothes. But that is all a personal preference. They are noticeably more expensive than the other ones also so I’ve scouted out some discounted ones. I think these will work especially well when traveling internationally.

I just returned from a U.S. trip. I had my giant suitcase with me. I was thrilled when I saw that my cubes fit nicely across the bottom of my suitcase (see picture). They are designed to fit with common suitcase sizes. They also come in a couple of sizes – regular, half and quarter. Thus, they stack nicely on top of each other. After I laid out the base layer, I added some more cubes as well as the usual treasures we bring back from the U.S., like mac and cheese.

I leave for a short work trip on Monday. I actually am excited to pack and be organized with my cubes. It will help me sort my clothes and find them during my overnight stays.

What packing tips and tricks do you have?


top left (black) is the regular cube; bottom left (raspberry) is the light-weight cube; top right (green) is a “Specter Sac”; bottom right are two light-weight half cubes


Back At It

If you are a regular follower, you might have noticed that this blog has been quiet for quite some time. Let me catch you up.

We returned to South Africa in July from “Home Assignment”, a time where we all traveled in the United States visiting churches that sponsor the work we are a part of here. We also had some precious vacation time with family. We returned to South Africa in July and quickly put together the remaining details for a closing retreat for the YAGM (Young Adults in Global Mission) group that was just ending.

Then in later July, we learned that my mom’s brain tumor had begun growing again. She had been diagnosed with brain cancer in 2009. We had been so fortunate that the tumor did not continue to grow after the regular protocol of surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. So, this was not good news.

I took a quick trip back to the United States for an important visit to my parents. I then returned to South Africa so we could receive this year’s group of YAGM in late August.

In late September, my mom had a stroke or seizure, likely caused by the tumor. It was seriously enough that her doctor truly believed she was days away from death. So, we all booked tickets and sped off to the United States. While we flew, I thought I would never hear my mother’s voice again. But I did. She rallied. We stayed. The kids went to school in the U.S. I kept up as much of my work as I could while we were away.

Finally, the kids and I returned to South Africa in early January. The kids needed to get back for a new school year and I had stayed away as long as I could. Jon stayed back for a few appointments thinking he’d be joining us soon. 

Soon after we returned to South Africa, my mom developed an infection and passed away. We were not even home 2 weeks and we turned around to go back to the U.S. for my mom’s funeral.

We returned to South Africa late January and have since been in the throws of regular life. School for the kids. Work for myself and Jon. We are still feeling the effects of being gone so much and having so much of our time uncertain. And yet, we wouldn’t trade that extra time with my mom for anything.

So, we are home. I hope we’ll be posting more soon. Thank you for all of your prayers and support on this journey, but especially during the last 6 months.

New Images

We are in the church season of Epiphany. Epiphany is about light and Jesus Christ for the world. It could also be said that Epiphany is about seeing anew.

In that spirit, I am sharing a BBC link of images from the first week of 2015 on the African continent. Why, you might ask. Well, during “home assignment” (time in 2014 when we visited sponsoring congregations), people said again and again that the images we brought with us were different than what they had been taught. Person after person was caught in old images of lion and dirt roads. They were surprised by highways and skyscrapers. And isn’t that how it goes if you don’t visit or live in a place? It’s hard to know what it is really like.

Well, follow this link for some interesting and diverse images of the first week of January on the African continent. If you want to really make this even more of a learning experience, have a map or globe handy, too.

Weather Report, Epiphany Day

We get all kinds of questions about the weather. So, here’s a weather report for y’all.

As I’ve been told, December was warm but not overly hot until Christmas. Then, it was 39C / 102F in Pietermaritzburg! Glad I missed that.

Now, as a friend explained, the rains and the heat are here and they kind of take turns. True. Since coming back, the days have been hot and mostly sunny. Later in the day, the clouds build up and there are evening showers. Our first night back we even got a thunderstorm. The rain helps break the heat but it seems to start all over again the next day.

Below is a screenshot of a weather app I use. It feels warmer than 76 out there. But note the humidity. That’s what gets us down. And note that it is only 9am.

In a few minutes I’ll go hang a load of laundry on the line. Then, I will feel the strong sun on my skin and the heat will be real. Later today, we will turn on the wall air conditioning (aka “air con”) unit in our living room. It will cut the humidity and cool us off. Until then, we keep the curtains closed to block out some heat.

If you are in the north as you read this, I hope you stay warm today! Feel free to come join us!


Signing the Mandela Condolence Book

Tessa has already written about our family’s trip a year ago, when we received the news of Nelson Mandela’s death. As Tessa mentions in her post we were on our way to Cape Town when ‘Tata [Father] Madiba’ died. The kids and I had not yet been to Cape Town and Tessa’s travels in Cape Town had been in relationship to her work with YAGM (Young Adults in Global Mission) so we ‘took in some of the sights’. For example, we went down to the pier in Cape Town. Surrounded by relatively upscale shopping and sight-seeing that clearly appeals to tourists from around the country and around the world, in many ways the V & A Waterfront could be in any of a number of international port destinations. It was here that we came across one of the condolence books.

After Mandela’s death condolence books were made available in numerous locations both in the country and across the globe. Even walking towards the book felt momentous. I think this might have been especially so since I was walking with Isaac and Sophia. I can imagine them remembering this moment for the rest of their lives. I remember not knowing what to write and I can’t remember what I ended up writing on behalf of our family. I remember asking the kids if there was anything they thought I should write and I remember that we read a few of the recent entries in the book. I remember that even within a few entries previous to the one I was to write I could see several continents, cultures and languages represented. I also remember that the messages had multiple audiences. Some people wrote to Mandela, some to his family, some to the country, some to the world and some to themselves or some combination of these. We were with the book for several minutes as there was no long line and we had no particular sense of urgency.

I’m struggling to find words for this blog post just as I did when I was sitting with the condolence book. All sorts of cliches come to mind: death is a part of life; Mandela’s legacy lives on; there is still work to be done; he was a great man; we will never forget that day. These are all true and yet they are insufficient. So I will share with you the picture below and a link to an online condolence book so that you might hear many words from many voices. I will share more of our experiences of these days following Mandela’s death in a few more upcoming blog posts. I’d also like to write about the church service we attended, visiting Robben Island and conversations with South Africans of the ‘born-free’ generation.


5 December 2013

One year ago, we were on a road-trip to Cape Town and back to Pietermaritzburg. We had already traveled through the Karoo area (heading towards Cape Town) and enjoyed it greatly. On December 4th, we spent the night at a guest house half a day’s drive outside of Cape Town. It was peaceful and lovely, even if a touch touristy.

The next morning, I checked my phone as soon as I woke up to make sure all was okay with the young adults I work with. No messages had come in overnight. But while I was at it, I checked my email. And there it was: news that Nelson Mandela had died during the night.

I could not believe it. I’m not sure why I was surprised. He was elderly and had been sick for so long. There were speculations about his health and his longevity. But to have it actually happen was something else. While I peacefully slept that night, the world lost a hero. I didn’t even feel the trembles during the night from the loss.

That day, I kept looking around to see how the world was different. I told the kids that they were so fortunate to have been in South Africa while Mandela was alive, to have been even that close to an icon of forgiveness and reconciliation.

As we traveled that day, one thing sticks out in my mind. We stopped for lunch in a town that was steeped in poverty. We stepped out of our car to look for a place we could eat and I could feel the hunger in the community. People lingered around the buildings, likely without work or a place of purpose for the day. There were signs of poverty everywhere.

We got out and a young boy eagerly scampered over to offer to watch our car. We did not need our car watched. But I knew he wanted to do it for work and so I said yes.

We walked to a restaurant. We sat down and ordered. Plenty of choices. All of them we could afford. I walked down the street while we waited and browsed at a used bookstore. I even found a book to buy, a score for me on our budget as new books are very expensive in South Africa. But I knew that they were still a luxury beyond the dreamings of many who lingered on the streets.

We finished our meals and we had leftovers. I asked them to be boxed up. We walked back to our car and the young boy eagerly dashed over to show me how my car was still safe. I gave him some money to thank him. And I gave him our extra food and asked him to share with his friends. His face lit up with joy.

Before we could even pull away, the boy was dividing the food up among several others and it was eagerly being eaten. My kids saw it all and learned a powerful lesson about abundance and sharing and gratitude and poverty.

And I sat a bit numb, thinking about this world. Yes, the world lost a hero the night before. Yes, Madiba had worked so hard and sacrificed so much to make the world a better place. But there is still so much work to do.

May we all be inspired by the legacy of Nelson Mandela and give of ourselves to make the world a better place.

(I do not like to write about the poverty in South Africa because it isn’t all poverty. It isn’t all people who are unemployed. It isn’t all hungry children. Yet that part is also real and so I wrote of it today. But please read past and future posts as well as other perspectives to see that South Africa is so much more than poverty.)

Kids’ Education

It has been an interesting year for the kids’ education. While we are in the United States right now to be with my mom, the kids are going to school. Earlier in the year when we were on Home Assignment and were in the U.S., the kids missed school in South Africa. But, because we moved around and it was U.S. summer, they did not go to school here. Instead, the did some maths from their South African school. And, we had some guided reading theme weeks. One week was on the Civil War. Both kids picked a book from the Civil War week as being a favorite from the summer. Here are their book reviews:

Rifles for Watie by Harold Keith. (review by Isaac)

It’s a book about a boy who lives on the Kansas-Missouri border and Bushwackers (Confederate gorilla fighters) attack his farm and he signs up with the Union infantry and then is drafted into the cavalry. But, he has a Confederate girlfriend. At some point, he accidentally ends up fighting for the Confederates. I really liked the way this book looked at the Civil War from the point of a soldier who had fought on both sides. Plus, it was a really good book.

Charlie Skedaddle by Patricia Beatty (review by Sophia)

It’s a book about a boy whose brother died fighting in the Battle of Gettysburg. One day he sneaks onto a ship and joins the army as a drummer boy. One day he goes into battle with other troops and when he sees two friends gunned down mercilessly he shoots a soldier. Then he skedaddles into the mountains because he thinks he killed a soldier. So the book is about how he survives in the mountains. I liked it because it shows how war affects people.