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Thursday, October 10, 2013

Heating Habits

Spring Break starts this week.  It’s my favorite time of year because the sun chases away the winter blues, and I can emerge from hibernation and soak in a patch of sunshine.  After surviving the coldest, dampest, moldiest, sickest winter of my life, I am more thankful than ever. 

I don’t think this winter flustered most of my Uruguayan friends.  They bundled themselves and their children like Eskimos.  Scarves, hats, coats, gloves, leg warmers, layers of shirts and sweaters, everything except ski goggles.  Our California kids resisted the bundling until it got really cold, and then they didn’t want to unbundle to get showers in the cold bathroom.  Although it rarely dipped below freezing, the arctic wind was merciless if one had to walk to the store or stand at a bus stop for more than 10 minutes.  

And the houses aren’t built for the cold.  Our kids’ rooms have very high ceilings so it was a challenge to heat them.  We tried rolling a propane heater in their rooms, one at a time, to warm them up a bit before bedtime, but a steady draft sucked out the heat out quickly.  And the humidity stayed behind, feeding the persistent mold on the ceilings and walls, and inside clothes closets.  Standing near a blazing hot parrilla outside with a leather mug of yerba is more than just a custom, it’s survival.

We tried to responsibly and economically heat our home during the day, only heating the bathroom and the kitchen.  But we didn’t want to leave the propane heaters running through the night.  Even with our preoccupation with keeping everyone away from the flames, our puppy’s tail caught on fire twice.  She wasn’t hurt, but burnt fur smells really bad!

The same was true about electric heaters.  We’ve already had two minor electrical fires.  A fan motor started smoking, and the water heater caught on fire when a friend was in the shower.  Thankfully, she had time to get dressed and warn us about the smoldering, melting outlet.  Our bedroom is at the opposite end of the house from the children’s rooms, and I wouldn’t have been able to sleep knowing that there was an open flame and/or an unreliable electric appliance running. 

So, the kids slept under piles of blankets.  The unrelenting chill, combined with sharing stuffy air on public buses and in crowded classrooms, played with our immune systems.  So we all caught several viruses, too.  Our family has never been this sick.  Even Mark was sick.  The kids missed several days of school, and I had a few days in bed with the worst cough of my life.  Josh coughed through the whole winter, feverish on and off, but was never sick enough to miss basketball or soccer practice.

When one of the kid’s teachers chastised me on the phone for not encouraging enough extra penmanship practice at home, my voice got shaky, and I started to cry. 

We had been concentrating on developing new strategies to use limited and strangely different resources to provide food, transportation, warmth, shelter, and legal residence for our family.  And at the same time we were involved in church ministry, community outreach, and language learning. 

I was more than satisfied that our children had learned enough Spanish to make friends, be comfortable in a new school, and correctly complete their homework assignments.  Penmanship and pretty notebooks, in the Uruguayan primary grades, are more highly prized than an ability to reason well, but they were not at the top of our family’s priority list this winter. 

Quite often, there would be a string of days when I did not feel warm once.  I got chilled and stayed cold.  Washing dishes and hanging out laundry with numb fingers started to wear on me, and I was unmotivated to complete housework.  I just wasn’t functioning at 100%. 

And that feeling of wanting to do more in the church and community, but settling for 75% efficiency, pretty much sums up our first year here.  We needed to take time to adapt to a new climate and different standard of living.  We are determined to be better prepared for next winter.

God has never once given me more than He can handle.  His grace is sufficient for me.  And so I emerge from the winter cave into the Spring sunshine with thankfulness.

Pretty scarves

Hot cider, hot chocolate, coffee, mate

Dry, Falling Leaves that dance in the Arctic wind

Hot fires, hot meat

New visitors at church.  The church is being blessed by God and is growing

Warm friendships.  Our church family has been so kind to us.  We have received so much more from them than we have been able to give.

Christian school and kind, helpful classmates

The prayers and constant stream of letters from our church family in the U.S.

Young, bright Uruguayan Christians who are excited to be a part of what God is doing in their country

Birthday parties with no frills gift giving (no card or wrapping required!  No obligatory thank you notes!)

A fun anniversary night out with Mark

A car with enough seat belts for all of us.  This week we won’t have to double buckle or send half the family by bus.

Safety for Sabrina and Joshua as they use public transportation and are more independent in the city streets.

A playful puppy for the kids

Fresh bread, pasta, fruits and veggies

Lots of rain, budding trees and flowers, and a few scattered days of brilliant sunshine


  1. I only saw this today, thank you for sharing it Jeni. I am praying and am thankful that it is getting warmer there. DBC

  2. Thanks, Doug. Now that we're in the middle of a hot, sticky summer, it's hard to remember ever feeling cold! I'm thankful for the warm weather, too.