Look at that Smile!

Almost exactly two years ago I wrote a post about my Compassion International Child, Helen Angela, and her Almost Smile Photo – a photo that I was so happy to get because it was the first time I had seen her remotely happy. Always a serious photo taker, Helen Angela comes off as stern and no-nonsense, which is the opposite of how her letters portray her. In fact, the contrast is so great that I’d already made up my mind to somehow get a smiling photo of her in June when I travel to Peru to meet her…. but then, I got the most amazing gift in the mail:


Look at that smile! That big, beautiful, full on smile! Tucked away in a thank-you letter (telling me what she was able to get with her birthday money I sent –  the clothes she’s wearing) was this wonderful surprise. I cannot even begin to describe how happy this makes me. In my 10ish years of sponsoring her, this is the first real smile photo I have. 10 years!

I whole-heartedly believe this photo is a direct result of the increased amount of letters I’ve been sending her. I’ve noticed a warmth in her letters, and now I see the physical proof. It’s just one more reminder of why writing is so important.

And now, I can’t wait to meet this beautiful young woman with the smile that brings me so much joy. So, thank you, Helen Angela. Thank you for your wonderful letters and infectious happiness. Here’s to hoping I get many more smiling photos!


Preparing for Ecuador Part 3: Sponsored Child Gifts

Over the next few weeks I’ll be sharing a series of posts as I gear up to return to Ecuador in April. This is the third in that series.

One of the things I always wonder, and end up Googling, is what other Sponsors take to their sponsored children when they meet. So, I thought it might be fun to share a general overview of what I’m taking to Emily, Josué, and Valeria in less than 3 weeks. Fair warning, I’m probably taking too much – and this is totally the reason my bags are busting at the seams and bordering on being overweight. But hey, that’s to be expected, right?

What I’m taking to Emily (age 10):

EmilyGifts2015Highlights include: lots of clothes (several complete outfits, swimsuit, swim shorts, terrycloth coverup, socks, and underwear), hair bows/ties/bands, school supplies (backpack, colored pencils, markers, highlighters, crayons, sketchpad, binder, ruler, & pencil sharpener), “Guess How Much I Love You” in Spanish, flip flops, doll, filtered water bottle, Bible, duffel bag, washcloths, shower gel, shampoo, loofa, digital camera, makeup/pencil bags for mom & sisters, and quilt.

What I’m taking to Josué (age 16): 


Highlights: clothes (red hoodie, swim shorts, tank-tops, t-shirts, light-sweaters, and gym shorts), batting gloves, school supplies (backpack, pencils, colored pencils, highlighters, markers, crayons, sketch pad, notebook, baseball themed ribbon and fabric, toothbrushes, filtered water bottle, Bible, baseball post-it notes, portable baseball bases, flip flops, quilt (unfinished), duffel bag (not pictured), “Guess How Much I Love You” in Spanish, washcloths, duct tape, makeup/pencil bags for mom & sister, and engraved baseball & bat (better photo below).

What I’m taking to Valeria (age 10): ValeriaGifts2015

Hightlights include: clothing(coat, sweatshirts, sweatpants, track suit, bathing suit, swim shorts, terrycloth coverup, tshirts, socks, and underwear), school supplies (pencils, crayons, colored pencils, binder, ruler, pencil sharpener, backpack, and water colors), toothbrushes, shampoo, shower gel, toothpaste, flip flops, digital camera, hair bows/ties/bands, duffel bag, quilt, doll, filtered water bottle, “Guess How Much I Love You” in Spanish, washcloths, and Bible.

Of course once I took these photos I found a few items that I’d inadvertently left out including the small birds my Mom cross-stitched for each of the girls, the necklaces we got for the girls, and the hand-trainers I got for Josué. My mom also cross stitched a tea towel for Valeria’s family (all not pictured).

And I think that’s everything – I’m taking several gallon-bags of gifts from other sponsors, and a few things for the child development centers. But, most of my room goes to the gifts I’m taking to my kids – and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

How about you, what did you take or would you take to your sponsored kid(s)?



Valeria’s Swoon Quilt

I am so happy to be able to share the first completed sewing project for my upcoming trip to Ecuador. I made this quilt for Valeria, my mother’s sponsored child who I first met in 2013. For the pattern, I altered the swoon quilt pattern by Thimble Blossoms (which I have been swooning over for years).
ValeriaSwoon_1I used the fabric line April Showers by Bonnie & Camille. I only had a jelly roll and partial charm pack of the fabric, so I adjusted the pattern sizes to fit what was in my stash. For anyone else wanting to do this, the HST squares measured 2.5″ the solid squares ended up being 2″ and the rectangles ended up being 2″ x 3.5″. It took 1 jellyroll of printed fabric, ! charm square of printed fabric, and 1 jellyroll plus 4 strips of background fabric. I used 1 jellyroll strip and 1 charm square of 2 different prints and 1.25 strips of background fabric for each block.


For the Center Focus Block, I switched the colored center square for background fabric and then embroidered Valeria’s name with a crown. I quilted along the sashing and around each of the swoon stars. I also double-batted this quilt, since Valeria lives in the highlands of Ecuador where it can get quite chilly at night. I love this fabric, but I was concerned that the quilt would be too Christmas-y – but, when it was finished I was pleasantly surprised. The blues and yellows really balance out all the reds a greens. (But seriously, if you’re looking for a cute Christmas quilt, you should try a swoon with just the reds, grays, and greens from this line).ValeriaSwoon_2

For the back of the quilt I used a vintage sheet from my fabric stash that brought out the yellows in the fabrics. I love using sheets as backings – mainly because it’s so much easier than piecing a back.

But, wouldn’t you know it, I did have to piece the corner on this one since I cut the sheet a tad bit short. Nothing a scrap piece and label can’t fix. I bound the quilt using a wide red bias tape. ValeriaSwoon_6I cannot wait to give this to Valeria! I’ll be sharing more about the other quilts I’m sewing for this trip and the duffel bag that I’m creating to match this beautiful quilt in the next couple of weeks. My plan is to sew one quilt and one duffel bag per sponsored child I’m visiting.

Do you have any completed projects that you’re excited about?


Preparing for Ecuador Part 1: Packing List

Over the next few weeks I’ll be sharing a series of posts as I gear up to return to Ecuador in April. This is the first of that series.


How is it possible that I feel both more and less prepared for my trip to Ecuador this year? The time seems to be just flying by – It’s like I know what all I have to do, and even with 40 days left, there doesn’t seem to be enough hours in the day to get it all done. I’m sewing way more for this trip than I did in 2013 – plus I’m visiting with an additional child. Which means my packing is a bit out of control… as witnessed by the luggage and ton of stuff to pack in the photo above. Gifts for 3 kids/families, gifts for the centers we visit, and my own clothes/toiletries means that my bags are filling fast. Right now, the plan is to check 2 bags on the way to Ecuador, and then stow one inside the other and just check a single bag on the way home. With my “two” carry-on bags (1 carryon & 1 personal item….aka the biggest laptop bag/backpack I could find) I’m looking at wrangling 4 bags through the airport. This should be fun. At least I’ve figured out how to hook two bags together so they’ll pull one behind the other.

Anyway, in an effort to keep track of what all I’m packing (besides my gifts…more on those later)- and because I’m always super curious about what other sponsors take on their visits, I thought I’d share part of my packing list and some notes as to where to find the not-so-basic items and why they’re worth the space in my luggage. Brace yourselves, this might be a long post.

I’ve broken my list down by category to help me keep track, and I’ve included some great packing checklist resources at the end. So, without further adieu, here we go:

My Clothing

  • 5 shirts
  • 4 pants
  • 1 dress
  • 3 pairs of shoes: tennis, Toms, & flip flops
  • 1 swim suit
  • 1 pair of pajamas
  • necessary underwear, undershirts, & socks
  • 2 jackets: rain & sweater
  • Ecuadorian Hat (Emily got me this the last time I visited, and I want to wear it again when I see her)


  • toothbrush, paste, & floss
  • razor
  • hairbrush
  • lice repelling shampoo (seriously worth the investment)
  • body wash
  • deodorant
  • makeup (minimum here, just taking: foundation, powder, eye shadow, and eye liner)
  • Chapstick
  • contact case
  • contact solution
  • 2 pairs extra contacts
  • glasses/case
  • face wipes
  • baby wipes
  • hair ties
  • travel-sized hair spray
  • lotion
  • nail clippers
  • nail file
  • tissues (because, when it comes to these trips, I’m a cryer)
  • straightening iron (I didn’t pack this last time, and wished I had, so I’m making room for it this year)
  • camper’s toilet paper (no toilet paper was provided at any of the stops we made in 2013, and I was so, so thankful to have packed this)
  • washcloths (most hotels do not provide washcloths – bath towels, yes. washcloths, no.)


  • Imodium
  • Melatonin
  • Dramamine
  • Tylenol
  • Headache Relief Extra Strength tablets (equate brand) – let me just say, altitude sickness is real. And it will knock you on your butt faster than anything. These headache pills saved me last time, they allowed me to function until my body could adjust. So yes, even though they contain aspirin, I will be taking them again.
  • allergy pills (probably generic Claritin)
  • sunscreen
  • bug spray
  • tweezers
  • bandages
  • sunglasses (2 pair because I cannot function without them – see headache pills)


  • laptop or tablet (haven’t decided which yet) & accompanying charger
  • phone & charger
  • headphones
  • notebook & 2-3 pens
  • 3 digital cameras for my sponsored kids (did this in 2013 and loved how I got to be present and they took all the photos)
  • lots and lots of AAA batteries for the digital cameras
  • key chain flashlight


  • passport
  • photocopy of passport
  • passport lanyard (I bought mine years ago, but this one is similar)
  • ID
  • Credit Card
  • Cash
  • vaccine chart
  • airplane tickets
  • trip guide book

Whew! I think that’s all of it other than the gifts I’m taking for my kids (which fill up the two checked bags already!). Honestly, it feels good to have it all listed out like that. The goal is to fit most of what’s listed here into one of the carryon bags, with the exception of the liquid items. If you’ve stuck with me this far, can you think of anything I might be missing?

Packing Resources

Emily’s Birthday Package: What I Send My Compassion Kids

I’m continuing my series of copy-able letters to sponsored children. To read more about this series, click here. To view other templates, click the “Sponsor Letter Templates” link under the main blog header (or here, if reading in a feed). 

I’ve got several birthday packets to send out to my sponsored kids over the next few days and thought it might be fun to share what all I send on these special occasions.

EmilyBirthdayPackageWith all of my preparations for traveling to Ecuador to see Emily again, I got behind in mailing her birthday letters/package. Unfortunately, this batch will miss her March birthday – but even so, she will know I love her and am thinking of her. For this year’s goodies, I included:

  • A four page letter telling her how special she is to God, me, and my family; and reminding her to enjoy her childhood years
  • Lots and lots of stickers: flower stickers, Lisa Frank stickers, heart stickers, and more!
  • A card-stock dollhouse (found at the local Dollar Tree. I’ve sent several of these with no problems)
  • A watercolor princess page
  • A Lisa Frank Swan folder to hold it all (it’s even got glitter on it)
  • A paper Birthday Cake

I always enjoy putting together these special occasion packages for my sponsored kids – and will soon be mailing Josué’s. Then, before I can even blink, April will be here and I’ll be flying off to meet them once more. I cannot wait and until that day, I’ll keep mailing my love. If nothing else, they will know someone cares about them, about their future, and about their family.

What do you send your sponsored child(ren) on their birthday?

25 Easy & Fun “Extras” to Include in your Compassion Letters

******EDIT: Please note that this post pre-dates Compassion’s New Writing Guidelines that go into effect on April 11, 2016. You can read about the new guidelines here.************

As you know, I’m a passionate Compassion International Child Advocate with three sponsored children in South America. As a sponsor, I give $38 per child per month to provide for their education, health, and Christian studies. More important that the financial contribution, however, are the letters I send. The words of encouragement and love mailed half-way across world to children in desperate need of validation. Words that serve as hugs on difficult days and offer glimpses into the life of someone who cares. By far, the letters matter more than the money.

Over my 8 years as a Compassion Sponsor, I’ve picked up a few tips for letter-writing, and now as an Advocate, I am called to support current sponsors and encourage them to make letter-writing an integral part of their sponsorship experience. In doing so, I thought it might be fun to share a few examples of the many “goodies” sponsors can send along with letters. Please note, Compassion restricts “goodies” to: small paper-based items no larger than 8-1/2″ x 11″ and cannot be more than 1/4″ thick. Also, it is a good practice to label all pieces with your sponsor number and the child’s number.

And so, here are 25 Fun Extras to Include in Your Compassion Letters:

  1. Bible Coloring Pages (include 2 – you color one and let your sponsor child color one)
  2. Extreme Dot-to-Dot (great for older sponsored kids)
  3. Bright Pocket Folders (no brads – these are slightly larger than the 8 1/2″ x 11″, but I’ve never had a problem with them going through)
  4. Sticker Sheets
  5. Sticker Dress-up Dolls
  6. Holiday Cards
  7. “Thinking of You” Cards
  8. Letter Templates
  9. Paper Origami Sheets with picture instructions
  10. Color by Number Pages
  11. Watercolor Pages
  12. Hidden Picture Posters
  13. Temporary Tattoos
  14. Card-stock Dollhouses (Found at Dollar Tree)
  15. Travel Postcards
  16. Photos of You
  17. Photos of You when you were your sponsored child’s age
  18. Photos of your sponsored child (They may not have one)
  19. Travel Postcards
  20. Decorative Post-it Notes
  21. Certificates of Achievement
  22. Decorative Band-aids
  23. Paper cut-outs for bulletin boards (stars in above photo)
  24. Small, thin story books
  25. Lacing Cards

For an ever-evolving list of “goodies” to send to Sponsored Children, be sure to follow my Pinterest Board.


20 Things I wish I had Asked My Sponsored Kids


Last September, when I traveled with Compassion International to meet my two Ecuadorian sponsored children, Josué & Emily, I had no idea what to expect. No idea how I would react or what I would see. I’ve written about my trip here, if you’re interested in following along.

They, our group leaders, did tell us to be thinking of questions to ask our kids – they warned us that we would get caught up in the moment and forget what we wanted to know if we didn’t write it down. They did tell us, and I did ignore them. I couldn’t think of anything in particular that I wanted to know – I just wanted to know my kids. I just wanted to see them, hug them, and tell them I love them. I didn’t have anything to ask them. I am, by nature, a quiet person, an extremely introverted person. Small talk tires me – it was enough, in those few moments, to simply hold my kids. To just be there with them – to be completely there. To breathe in the air and know that this moment will never happen again.

And so, like they warned me, I forgot anything I wanted to ask. I stumbled over the small talk- amazed at simply being there. I had no idea what to say or what was appropriate to ask. Fortunately, I was blessed with an amazing translator who kept the conversation going as me and my kids are all quiet, reserved souls – and there were so many new people. Only when I had said my “bye-for-nows” did I realize there was so much that I didn’t ask.  So much more that I wanted to know.

Below are the questions I forgot – the ones that I’m now including in my letters, but wished I had included in my face-to-face conversation. Some of them don’t seem like much, but they are gold to me. Let me encourage you, if you are ever taking a trip to meet your sponsored child, take a notebook with you. Write down your questions for them, and their answers to you. Write down all the names of all the people you meet. Write everything down. Memories are frail and fleeting when it comes to small details – notebooks, pen, paper, cameras – invaluable.

Things I wish I had asked both Emily & Josué:

  1. How are your father & siblings?
  2. What did you do when you found out I was coming to visit you?
  3. What kind of “extras” do you like to get with the letters? (do you still like stickers? Do you like the paper planes better? What makes you most excited to open the letters?)
  4. Which letter is your favorite, and why?
  5. What size clothes do you wear?
  6. Exactly how tall are you?
  7. What is your shoe size?
  8. What is your home like?
  9. What does an average day for you look like?
  10. What is the hardest part of your day?
  11. How many kids in your project get regular letters from their sponsors?
  12. Do any of your friends/siblings not get letters?
  13. How old is your Compassion Project?
  14. How long have your tutors been working with Compassion?

Things I wish I had asked for Emily specifically:

  1. What is your favorite part of the Compassion Program?
  2. What kind of lessons does your mother teach for Sunday School? Does she have a favorite lesson?

Things I wish I had asked for Josué specifically:

  1. How did you get started with your baseball team?
  2. Tell me more about the service projects you and your friends do for your neighborhood.
  3. Who is your best friend, what do you like most about them?
  4. Of all of your baked goods, what have you been most proud to make?

What would you ask your sponsored child, if you could ask them anything?