Thursday, November 5, 2009

update!

From Heidi!

Thanks to everyone who donated to this wonderful cause. We have received about 4,000 so far which is enough to start building. If you are still interested in donating, we will continue to accept donations on the paypal site. The money will go towards buying food for the orphans once the center opens.
We drew a random number for the quilt drawing and the lucky winner is Jimmy Wells. Congratulations!
We will keep everyone posted on the progress of the Karabo Asara (meaning Hope is the Answer) Orphan Center.
Isn't this the best news? We are so thankful for everyone's continued generosity to make Karabo Asara reality! Heidi and I go this weekend to Eesterust to meet with the committee to start plans for building! YAY!

Will and I have battled a mystery virus that presented very scarily like malaria. Luckily, we're both malaria free but it took a few days to beat that monster back.

Our computer has a new hard drive, iTunes is fully recovered, and the camera is still missing. BOO.

Swaziland looks just like Ireland... in Africa. What a fantastic place! I can't wait to go back with Will for a weekend. Swazi has amazing crafts, including amazing glass works from Ngwenya. I've been in love with the glass hippo for years but at R450 (about $60), I've kept passing it by. In Swazi, the glass is CHEAP so I got dear ol' hippo for R115 (about $15)! Except, I of course picked a hippo with a flaw... now I think we need the elephant or buffalo book ends. I'm in love. Now if only Swazi had a good pub with Irish music...

Cooking has been going awesome these days. Last night I made Pioneer Woman's pasta alla vodka - what an amazingly yummy (and simple!) week night dish! I made a thai peanut chicken dish for Will that was fairly good - he liked it better than me. I also made these southwestern egg rolls - Will and I thought they were yummy, but would be better fried (we just can't kick our southern roots!).

The Pioneer Woman cookbook came in the mail and I'm a wee bit obsessed. There are so many recipes I can't wait to make! Quite specifically things that require ramekins. Except I don't own ramekins (but I really want these Le Creuset ones - don't laugh).

For Halloween, Will went as a very scary demon (with black hair and a black beard!) and I was a witch. We went to a fun party we helped cater. I was in charge of helping with dips and I made some really awesome ones, if I do say so myself. Here are some ideas for you the next time you take a veggie platter to a party...

Spicy Black Bean Hummus
Ingredients: 1 can black beans, at least 3-4 cloves of garlic (I think I used 6!), 1/2 cup of tahini, 1/4 cup of plain yogurt, lemon juice, a generous squirt of Sriracha sauce

Simply mix together until smooth in a food processor. Taste as you go and add as you like. I love garlicky, spicy hummus and the sriracha just adds the right flave. Enjoy!

Creamy Avocado Dip
Ingredients: 2 avocadoes, 3/4 cup of plain yogurt, 1-2 cloves of garlic, 2 tsp. of cayenne pepper, lime juice, salt and pepper to taste

Simply whip together until smooth in a food processor and taste as you go and adjust seasonings as you need feel is best. Again, I like spicy so I probably had a teeny bit of a heavy hand on the cayenne pepper! This is so very good with carrots. YUM.

If you've bought a carton of yogurt to make dips, use the remaining to make a ranch dip or a fruit dip for a fruit platter. Yum!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Pavlov's dog.

A couple weeks ago, Bryan, Heidi, and I ordered a 12 pack of cheetos for $11 from Amazon. Really - it was a deal we couldn't resist.

The cheeto's came yesterday. I popped the top (they are in a cannister) and was shocked to find...

I salivated.

Yes, my mouth actually watered for cheetos.

I really worry what will happen when I finally return home and sit down at a Mexican restaurant. I may visibly drool for cheese dip. I ask early forgiveness if you are privy to the 1st Mexican meal upon my return to the US next year.

This weekend I went hunting with Will for his birthday. It was a last minute decision, but I'm so glad it worked out. We went with Beth and Adam. While the guys hunted during the day, Beth and I lounged around the camp, which was actually really nice. We laid in the pool, played with kittens and puppies, read our books, went for walks, watched E! tv (a true treat for those without cable TV), and made scrumptious meals. It was incredibly relaxing and very peaceful. Adam got an impala and Will shot another wildebeest so it looks like more wildebeest enchiladas and sloppy joes in the future.

I still haven't found my camera - have you?

Last night I decided to make this for dinner. I love chicken parm. Its fair to say I adore it. Yum. Its a fave. However, I've always hated making it as it takes too many steps, pans, and ingredients. Without fail, I always slop egg wash onto the floor, get flour all over the place, and make a huge icky mess of bread crumbs and chicken. Then it always tastes too bread crumb-y (or burnt) and the sauce? Forget it. Too much work, too much frustration... I'll just make spaghetti with meat sauce instead.

But this?

This recipe is the answer to all my problems. It cooks in one dish - one! No gooey egg wash, no bread crumbs, just simple boneless skinless chicken breast dredged lightly in flour and cooked in a skillet. No tasteless yucky tomato sauce - instead, a flavorful, garlic-ky tomato sauce for the little chickens to rest in. And melting cheese on the chicken in the pan using the lid and skipping the oven? Brilliant. Perhaps one of the best parts was that I didn't even heat up my kitchen with the oven - this was all cooked right on the stove!

It was such an easy weeknight dinner that earned, "Oh wow, this is really really good" comment from the hubs. It heated up awesome for lunch today too - yay!

If I haven't said it before, I'll say it again: I'm a fan of Pioneer Woman.

I head out to Swaziland early tomorrow morning and am looking forward to adding another country to my list of places I've been in 2009 (South Africa, Zambia, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Angola, Namibia, Botswana, Ireland, Britain)! So far, 10 countries in 2009! But I'll be adding Swaziland, Lesotho, and Mozambique before the year runs out... 13 different countries in one year (not counting layovers where I spent money - that would also count Kenya and Germany) - I don't think I'll ever top that record! The only bummer is that I won't have internet or a camera the entire time I'm there. Oh well! I have a feeling Will and I will head to Swazi one weekend just for fun.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

omg.


THIS is what I found on my dryer this morning!

Its official. I live in Africa.

This scary critter is what's known as a baboon spider. This was the inspiration for the spider in Lord of the Rings. Seriously. Tolkien was scared too.

I screamed so loud when I saw this spider that Will thought there was a dead body in our garage.

Happy birthday Will! Your wife is screaming bloody murder in the garage and you now have the responsibility of ridding your casa of this hairy beast. What a gift.

Dear Lord, please don't let me find one of these massive, hairy (and yet non-venomous) critters inside my house. ..

Monday, October 12, 2009

swimming.

I'm swimming again. I don't know what has brought on my sudden surge of swimming, but I am.

For those of you who don't know, I spent most of my childhood in a pool. Sometimes I was in the pool to teach swim lessons, to life guard, or to just simply have fun with friends. But a good 95% of my time in a pool has been as a competitive swimmer. I swam summers on my neighborhood team with the best coach ever. I spent a couple years swimming year-round on a competitive team when it didn't conflict with basketball. And, of course, I swam for my high school swim team, lettered, and then eventually became captain of the team my senior year.

FACT: I was CONVINCED that we kept sharks in the deep end of the pool when I was really young and starting out (5-6 years old). The lanes of our pool were half shallow and half deep end so any time I had to swim in the deep end, I sprinted for dear life as I was sure I was going to get eaten by our team's mascot that only lived in the depths of the pool. I eventually realized that sharks don't live in chlorine!

Needless to say, swimming was my life. Unfortunately, in my senior year of high school, I sustained a serious injury to both of my shoulders. Given the choice of undergoing incredibly invasive corrective surgery that may not ever solve the problem or pain or simply stopping swimming, I stopped. The pain was unbearable - it hurt to drive, it hurt to sleep, it hurt to do any physical activity period. I knew that I had to stop in order to get better. It was, to that point, the worst thing that ever happened to me. Of course, stopping swimming meant that I could sing more (swim meets always conflicted with musicals, shows, etc.) so I threw myself into singing and pursued that into college instead.

I didn't swim for exercise until about two years ago when I joined a gym in Atlanta that had a pool. It was weird, the pool was hot, and I didn't keep it up. Plain and simple.

Now I live in Africa and belong to an incredibly nice gym with a pool that uses salt water (blech) instead of chlorine. They keep the pool cool and on a 90+ degree day, I can think of no better exercise than going to swim.

The pool is large with 6 25 yd. lanes. This means I have yet to share a lane when swimming - yay! Swimmers range from every ability - a woman next to me yesterday verrrrrrrrrrrrrrrry slowly treaded water from one end of the pool to the other, all the while keeping her head out of the water. Most people swim at a slow pace, don't do flip turns, and usually only do freestyle (i.e. the crawl). In contrast, I swim all the strokes, always do flip turns (its ingrained in me the same way that boxing out when someone shoots a basketball is), and move a lot faster, without really trying.

While I swim, Will is usually somewhere watching me from a treadmill or the weights and he says he laughs as he sees me plow through the water just to swim faster than the guy a couple lanes down from me.

So I'm competitive. Its never gone away.

The thing about swimming is... I've missed it. Its comfortable to me. It really doesn't feel like exercise until I hoist myself out of the pool on arms that feel like spaghetti noodles. I can swim for 30 minutes and I just get to think about things. If I do breast stroke, I even hear the music playing in the gym, which is somewhat nice. Otherwise, its just relaxing and peaceful. Because I have a short attention span, most times I wind up swimming against the clock to give me something to do.

When you train as a swimmer, you'll have a minute clock on both ends of the pool. The dials are huge so you can easily see the minute hand tick by - the arm is black one end and red on the other so you can keep track of the time. Most often I sprint against the clock. I'll swim 8-10 laps, stop, wait for the clock to reach 60, and then push off, swimming as fast as I can to see what time I make it in. I have yet to enjoy the time I see on the clock - its about 20 seconds faster than what I used to swim. So this is what I do for at least thirty minutes - swim 8-10 laps at a moderately fast pace, then swim a 2 lap sprint (50 yds) as fast as I can, rest, swim 8-10 laps, sprint, rest.

I've decided that I miss having a kick board and a pull buoy, two things I never thought I'd miss. I really really REALLY miss my awesome purple speedo goggles - the ones I have with me fog up too fast. I'm really pleased that I wear a USA swim cap when I swim - just because I love swim caps with writing on them.

As I swim, my mind wanders... if I read a magazine article on the amount of calories you burn while swimming, would I be burning what the article says... or would the slow people moving along be burning that amount? Is there a website where I can get ideas for a swim plan so I'm doing more than swimming against the clock (my old coach has one here!)? What's better post-swim: steam room or sauna? etc. etc. etc.

Anyway, I'm happy, my arms are getting toned, and Lord knows while I'm not nearly as fast as I used to be (or as small), I'm happy to be in the pool again, pain-free.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Hope is the answer.

I still haven't found my camera. sigh. And our computer mysteriously crashed and I have to buy a new hard drive. And rebuild iTunes. For me and Will. siiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiigggggggggggh.

Its just not a good time to be an electronic device and living in the Nagli casa. I'm sweet talking my 5 year old iPod as I type this because I'm sure its going to die a slow death soon.

Maria's Orphanage Update!
We have a name: Karabo Asara!

This means "hope is the answer."

And answer we have! To date, we've raised over $4,000!!! Heck yes! Unfortunately, Heidi's computer also crashed so we are waiting to get it up and working again to pull the exact number and do the quilt drawing.

The blueprints are being drawn and we couldn't be more excited for Maria.

Its still not too late to donate! Supplies, your time, cash... it all works and it all helps.

Recipes
I've been working out after work this week with Rilla. She came over after one workout and together we made an "interesting" meal of falafel, tzatziki (secret recipe - sorry!), black bean hummus, greek salad, and lamp chops. A really light dinner! Next time I make falafel, I think I'll bake it (or at least fry it a bit and then bake the rest of the way). Its too complicated to fry! It took a really long time, but the end result was tasty.

I'm diggin' Pioneer Woman these days (just look at those roasted garlic potatoes!). And I'm a big fan of this too. The baby shower food entry is pretty fantabulous as well as baby brie cups.

Will's birthday is next week and we're celebrating on Sunday night since Monday is a holiday. Yippeee! More recipes after the par-tay...

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

September? Where'd you go?

I can't believe October begins this week. Wow. It will officially begin the countdown of one year left in Africa.

My fantastic in-laws departed for the US on Saturday night. Will and I were super sad to see them go, but understood that life was calling them home. To put it simply, we had the best time. Will and I learned that sometimes the best day can be spent reading a book in the sunshine with no plans whatsoever. They've learned that their daughter-in-law will argue for a solid 10 minutes that "FAQ" is a word (seriously. its a verb now. I don't care if its an acronym. I'm using it as a verb. there. ha.) just so she can win at scrabble. We've all learned that the best way to start your day is with a glass of bubbly South African sparkling wine and a shower overlooking a water hole filled with elephant, buffalo, hippo, and a croc.

Pictures to come soon, when I finally find my camera. sigh.

In the mean time, there's this!!! Pioneer Woman has A COOKBOOK! heck yes! On October 27, I will be pressing "order" on Amazon so I can get my hands on this bad boy as soon as can be (in fact, I'm really tempted to do my first pre-order on Amazon - its that bad!).

I'm posting because it looks like she may come to a city near you. Yes, YOU. Not me. For some reason, I'm guessing Africa is a bit too far for a book tour. She'll be in Atlanta on December 7. Go. For me. Please? Go see her.

She also posted this recently... I like. And this too (probably just because I love beef stroganoff).

In other news, Will and I have been cooking up quite a bit. A month's worth of dining out will leave you wanting to eat at home. Will did cook up some scrumptious impala tenderloin while the parents were here. Who knew that a dinner of impala, mac & cheese, southern style green beans, and rolls could be so good? Yum.

Will the hunter has stocked our freezer full of warthog, impala, and wildebeest that we must eat over the next few months. I'll post recipes soon. Impala burgers are perhaps the best burgers I've ever had.

Sunday night we had a relaxing night at home with Rilla, who has a brand new puppy (a lab/sharpei mix!). The dogs played and we enjoyed a nice dinner on the patio of grilled shrimp and salad. Rilla made a killer salad of avocado, tomato, onion, and hearts of palm. Paired with some grilled portabellos and onions, it made for a killer light meal on a hot day.

I made round two of spaghetti and meatballs to watch The Godfather Part II with (we've decided to veto watching The Godfather Part III, mainly because Part II wasn't as good as Part I and if Part III is much worse than Part II, then I'll pass) (I love italics today). I think I've decided that while I make a tasty meatball, they are too much work for a week night meal. Besides, my meat sauce rocks.

I'm eating a yummy lunch right now, which I brought from home. YAY! I've decided my new favorite thing to take for lunch is fat free refried beans and spanish rice. I make it Sunday night and divide the beans and rice into several separate containers. I then take a container with some salsa, guac, and tortilla chips and voila! A perfect lunch that's cheap, tasty, balanced, vegetarian, and doesn't leave me feeling hungry at 3:00pm. I won't even abandon it for other offers of going out to lunch because its just that good. YUM. And did I mention cheap? If you figure the beans are $1/can, the rice is about $2/packet, the chips are $3, the salsa is $3, and the guac is $3, then that's $12 total. This makes at least 4 lunches (you could make 3 man-size lunches) which winds up at $3-4 per lunch. It would probably be cheaper in the states as mexican food comes at a price here - its just not that popular yet. But again, yum. Just trying to throw out a new lunch option!

Read: send me spanish rice!

I'm trying avocado enchiladas tomorrow (but am cheating and using can sauce rather than making the recipe here).

This weekend we're headed to Taste of Joburg (hooray free tickets for diplomats!). Me = can't wait!

And by the way, Happy birthday Little Friend!

Friday, September 4, 2009

update.

I'm overwhelmed.

My mom always said that it never hurts to ask.

I asked.

I received an overload of emails, donations, and more from family, friends, and even complete strangers. I feel so blessed to know so many amazing people that are happy to help me in this cause. I am so grateful for your generosity. As soon as things are more finalized with the orphanage, we can really plan on how to get this place into shape!

So - update!

I learned Nico's name is actually spelled Nyiko. Nyiko means "gift" - awwww.

Last Friday, I gave Maria money to go to the uniform store to purchase a uniform and shoes for Nyiko (I would have gone but alas, had no car since Will was on a hunting expedition). The cost? R500, which comes out to $62.50 (pretty good deal for pants, shirt, sweater, shoes, socks, etc.).

Maria took the uniform to Nyiko. He wept. He said, "I didn't think anybody loved me."

And so I cried when she told me.

She said he loved the uniform and is so proud of it. She said all he needed was a school bag. Ironically, Will and I had just cleaned out one of our closets and found a backpack. We decided to hold on to it and give it away when needed. I filled the bag with odds and ends - bubble gum, socks, a set of dominos, etc. I also included a pen and notepad. On the first page of the note pad, I wrote:

Nyiko,

You are very loved.

Love,
Will and Valerie



Maria goes on Monday to finalize the land and hopefully learn the name of the orphanage. She had to submit 5 names to the board (just in case any where already taken) and they will let her know which one wins.

More soon!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Happiness, Heartbreak, and How you can Help.

Its taken me awhile to sit down and write this entry. I've been feeling a range of emotions and just haven't known exactly what to say. But I'm going to try.

On August 16, Will, Heidi, Bryan, Asara, and I loaded up the car and headed out to Eesterust. We were there to cheer on the Buffalo Boys, the soccer team that we support in Maria's township. After their game, we were doing a braii (read: cookout) for them.

We headed to the soccer field, a patch of dirt with two posts on either end to mark the goals. The field was full of boys in AYSO jerseys (donated from someone back home). I was so happy to see these boys smiling, laughing, and playing soccer. At the same time, my heart broke that they were shoeless and without protective gear (shin guards, socks, padding for the goalie). They played in dirt rather than on grass. When their ball went out of bounds, it went into the street.

We cheered the Buffalo Boys to victory that day. Yay! They returned to Maria's house where we grilled up a feast and popped popcorn. The little girls from Christmas were happy to see me again and we played and played. The Buffalo Boys loved taking "jumping pictures" where I would say "1, 2, 3" and then they'd jump and I'd snap the shot. Then they insisted on taking individual photos. Did I mention that they also wore their jerseys backward the entire time?

It was so fun - I really had the best day hanging out with these wonderful children.


Asara is getting held by the cute girls and boys!

Towards the end of the afternoon, Maria introducted me to two boys. One boy, Thabang, had appendicitis and got his appendix removed. I asked to see his scar, which essentially looked like a Frankenstein wound - all jagged, swollen, and awful looking. Thabang said he still felt pain from his wound and I could see why. I asked him how I could help him and he said, "Madame, I am happy. I do not need anything." I look at Maria, look back at him and gently say, "No really... how can I help you?" The same answer. I look back to Maria and say, "How can I help?"

It turns out he has no food to eat. Maria feeds him what she can but he is an orphan and has no one to depend on. Every day I bring something to work for Heidi to give to Maria so Thabang can have something to eat. I bought a big thing of peanut butter and a big thing of jelly and so I buy loaves of bread (have I ever mentioned that a loaf of brown bread costs less than $1 here???) and bring them to her throughout the week so he can have sandwiches.

And here's where I say: if you were literally starving and someone asked you how they could help you, would you be able to smile at them and say you are fine?

And my heart broke.

Maria then introduced me to Nico. Nico was the soccer team star - he has amazing skills on the field. He's a shy boy and wouldn't look me in the eye. I asked him about the soccer team and then asked him if I could help him in any way. The same answer, "Madame, I am fine. Thank you for asking." I look at Maria and back at this boy, who I can tell has pain in his heart. I ask him again - "Madame, I am fine." I look back at Maria, she speaks to him in Sesotho, and then he looks at me and back down again.

"School."

I look at Maria and she explains that he has no uniform to go to school. He needs the uniform and he needs shoes. I tell Maria - no problem. Will and I can buy him what he needs - just tell me how. Nico lights up at the news and thanks me profusely, as much as a shy boy can do.
And here's where I say: if you were literally growing out of your clothes and had no shoes for your feet and someone asked to help you, would you be able to smile at them and say you are fine?

And so my heart broke into a thousand pieces.

I have mentioned this before, but Maria is an AMAZING woman who cares so much for her town. She has saved and saved and saved and has finally saved enough purchase land to build an orphanage for all the children in her town. That afternoon, we went to see the lot of land to take measurements and see what work is cut out for us.

On the way back, we stopped by Nico's house.

And my heart broke into a million pieces.

Nico's "home" is a crumbling cement building that was never finished. Weeds grow inside the walls. Its incredibly unsafe. There is one area in which they dragged some scrap metal and they have made a roof, but his home is weeds, dirt, trash, and crumbling cement bricks. On the ground laid his gugu (grandma), who had swollen legs and was coughing up something awful. On the ground beside her were two little girls coated in flies as they played in the dirt. Nico's mother happened to be home - apparently she leaves him for months at a time so Nico is primarily cared for by his gugu, who is obviously very ill. Maria tells Nico's mother how we will help him and she weeps. In my life, I've never seen someone cry like that over someone else's offer to help. I asked her not to cry and hugged her, but I think that made it worse. She just wept and wept.

And my heart broke into a billion pieces.
I left Eesterust that day with a pain in my heart that I have never felt before. It was a day that changed my life forever. I left that day knowing that I must do everything I can to help leave this beautiful community a better place than I found it. When I had met these children before, I had no idea that these were the conditions that they lived in. I noticed the children had holes in their clothes and no shoes on their feet and that the ate like they had never eaten before, but it didn't sink in until I saw their homes how badly these children hurt.

I have to do everything I can to help this beautiful community that is so rich in love for one another but so poor in every other respect. I have to keep the soccer team going so that these boys have a bright spot in their otherwise dark lives. I have to build an orphanage to provide shelter and care for these children who have no one. I have to feed the hungry who would otherwise dig through the trash for scraps. I have to clothe the naked who can't go to school without the proper uniform. I have to use the gifts that God has given me to help in every way I can. I have to tell their story to anyone who will listen.

Immediate plans to assist Eesterust include hosting several fundraiser dinners to raise money to purchase shoes and shin guards for the Buffalo Boys. I think we can raise the $500 needed to take care of this need among our friends here in SA.

The orphanage? We're starting at ground zero with just the 5 of us (Maria, Heidi, Bryan, Will and I). We have to level the lot, build the space, and buy supplies. Wow. Maria wants the orphanage to have 5 rooms where the children can come for school tutoring, food, clothes, and a safe place to play and sleep. It will primarily be a day center, but for those children that have no where to sleep at night, they can stay there too. It will be 100% staffed by volunteers from the community.



This is a picture of part of the lot of the future orphanage.
Our work is cut out for us!


And so here it is: we are looking for ways to help Maria raise the money she needs to build the center. I am asking friends and family to seek donations for the construction of the building and initial start up items like beds, tables, and chairs. We estimate this to cost about $3,000. I know that purse strings are tight due to the recession so please know that any amount would be incredibly appreciated. Remember how I said $1 would buy a loaf of bread? $1 can buy at least 3 bricks for the building. $10 can buy 30 bricks. $25 can buy 75 bricks. As you can see, a little goes a long way. Even if you donate the change you have in your pocket or purse right now, you will make a change with change. Maybe you have a jar full of change you've been collecting - here's your chance to make change with change!

Heidi's mother has donated a quilt she made and we have decided to raffle it off. Any person donating $10 or more will be given a chance to win the quilt. We will inform the lucky winner at the end of September. We have set up a paypal account so people can pay either from their bank account or with a credit card. https://www.paypal.com/ (click on send money). The email address is bdestro@yahoo.com. We are working on getting a website made to show how much money we raise for this incredible cause! Stay tuned...



The quilt that will be raffled off! Beautiful!

I hope you will consider making a donation today. Even $1 will get us one step closer to getting this orphanage constructed.

We are also accepting donations of supplies and goods if you feel more comfortable donating supplies than money. Please leave your email address in the comments field of this entry and I will get in touch with you. Maybe you want to help the soccer team and have used soccer equipment, practice jerseys, cones, etc. that you could send to South Africa. Or perhaps you know a furniture store that would agree to send mattresses and beds overseas for the orphanage. Maybe you know someone willing to come here and provide medical services, such as dental care or basic health care services. Maybe you know a clothing store that needs a charity to cast off clothes to. Maybe you have old children's books that you don't know what to do with - truly, anything can and will help.

From Eesterust, we thank you for your support!
Picture above: Bryan, Maria, Will, and Valerie at the site of the future orphange
(the scrap metal building behind us will be knocked down)

See more on life with Maria by clicking on the "Maria" label at the bottom of this post.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

long weekends = my fave.

This weekend we celebrated Women's Day, which gave us Monday off from work. The long weekend was just fantastic.

On Friday, Will and I avoided mass chaos at the Embassy and didn't stick around for 5+ hours to see Sec. Clinton. Instead, after a busy week at work, we went home and made fantastic burgers and fries and got the complete scoop from our friends that did brave the chaos and saw Sec. Clinton and the new Ambassador to SA. An easy peasy low key night in = good times.

Saturday we hosted a party for the entire CDC-SA office and had the best time! We cooked warthog sausages, hamburgers, and fantastic grilled chicken legs (Will marinated them for hours and then basted with a butter/Texas Pete glaze = SPICY HEAVEN!). Folks enjoyed a lovely spring day in the sunshine - kids ran around our yard, Sanford was petted more than he has been in several years, and we just enjoyed a lazy day. I'm happy to have hosted my first grown-up party where kids of all ages and adults had a fantastic time and nothing got broken! Yay! After that, we headed to Tim and Rilla's for homemade chorizo and fun times with friends. It was a perfect Saturday.

Sunday we slept in. Bliss. I got online and realized that I somehow had ordered a $600 Gucci watch that I had been looking at on Amazon.com (it wasn't even one that I wanted!) and am thankful that the good folks at Amazon were able to recall the package before it got all the way to SA. Yay! I sat outside with the dogs for a good part of the afternoon, reading my book and looking through cookbooks to decide on the week's menu for me and Will (for the record, I'm trying beer enchiladas made with this meat sauce, lasagna roll-ups with meat sauce, and salad with crispy yogurt chicken). We went grocery shopping. We watched three movies (Gran Torino, Yes Man, and the International). A perfect low-key lazy Sunday. And most importantly, I made this for dinner.

I think this meal changed my life. I love patty melts. I do. Something about crunchy buttery bread, gooey cheese, and cooked onions makes me ridiculously happy. Its not something I eat often for health reasons, but oh man, I love them. Obviously, patty melts are not common in South Africa (nor do I imagine they'd be good anyway if I bought one at a restaurant). Cube steak is super cheap here (i.e. about $1/pound) and I happened to have some in the freezer. I found some small deli-type buns, which I thought would be good for portion control and not make a huge portion as seen on the website link above. Most importantly, I decided to buy some provolone cheese to melt on these bad boys. At the end, I put the bottom piece of bread on the cast iron skillet I had buttered the bread in and then put the meat on top and then layered thinly sliced provolone on top of that. I cooked it in the oven to get all melty and voila! Excellent sandwiches.

Yum. Absolute heavenly yum. Definitely try this recipe as its cheap and heavenly and will make the man in your life smile (and ignore the fact that this sandwich requires you to work out). Next time I may add mushrooms and bell peppers to the onions to make it similar to a philly cheesesteak (yet another menu item not found in SA).

Yesterday was another day just spent in the warm sunshine with friends. Hooray for what looks like the end of winter!!! We played tailgate golf, which is quite an interesting game that I'm terrible at. Will and I played Trivial Pursuit yet again and I am happy to report that we won. We love TP. Its true.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

excellent weekend!

What a fantastic weekend! What did we do? Nothing too crazy exciting, but it was just good times spent with fabulous friends.

Friday night we headed to Beth & Adam's for take out pizza and Trivial Pursuit on the Wii. The ladies beat the gents (hooray!) but I can't say it was a victory to be too proud of. Its difficult to play on the Wii and is super easy to select the wrong answer by accident. Regardless, it was super fun and a perfect way to spend a Friday evening after a busy week.

Saturday Will and I woke up to rain! I can't remember the last time we've had a rainy day in South Africa, but it was dark, humid, and stormy. We met Beth for lunch at a cute place called Isabella's - yummy. Its a cafe with homemade food, namely salads, casseroles, and quiche. Afterwards, I picked up take out from Geet, where they were so happy to see me, they gave me a free bottle of wine. I love South Africa!

Saturday night we celebrated our friend Atalie's birthday with a girls night in at our friend Rilla's. We had spanish tapas and made terrific Thai basil spring rolls with peanut sauce. I must say - they were pretty freakin' fantastic. We also made homemade naan to go with our takeout indian food. We watched E! and had loads of girl talk. The best part? Will was a fantastic hubby who drove all the girls around so no one had to drive and to ensure everyone made it home safe since their husbands were out of the country.

Today has been fantastic. I slept in, which is always a plus. Will and I went grocery shopping for the week and found cherry coke and Dr. Pepper! YAY! We got McDonald's (I love a quarter pounder with cheese). I sat outside in the sunshine and threw the ball for Muddy in the pool while reading The Six Wives of Henry VIII (so good!). I matched up mismatched socks. I made homemade manicotti and beef stroganoff and my lunch for the week since I have to work late every day this week. I watched tons of episodes of The Wire Season 2. Its just been a deliciously lazy day, which is what I need before a hectic week!

Friday, July 31, 2009

one year.

One year ago today, Will and I said goodbye to the US and hello to South Africa. It seems like we've been here for much longer than a year and I think our families and friends back home would agree.

During the past year, I've traveled to 10 different countries, none of them being the one of my citizenship (South Africa, Zambia, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Angola, Namibia, Botswana, Malawi, Ireland, England). I no longer cringe at flying, although I still give my customary two pats on the plane with my right hand when entering the plane (oh superstition...). I also fell head over heels in love with Cape Town.

I conquered major fears by completing a canopy zipline tour (and creating a permanent dent in my left shin in order to not pitch my husband off the side of a mountain) and whitewater rafting (in class 4 and 5 rapids, no less). Clearly, I survived.

I've learned it can get a lot colder in Africa than I ever thought (yes, 32 degrees farenheit!). I've learned that I can actually slap lotion on my skin and watch it immediately disappear due to living in a high altitude, super dry climate. I've learned that chlorine from the pool will bleach out your dog's hair.

I've realized that its not so bad living behind bars - I hardly notice them on my windows anymore. I still don't know why my hydrangeas died a cruel, ugly death in the yard while everything else thrives (seriously - I had 7 foot tall roses!).

I've added strange phrases to my vocabulary, such as "Izzit?" or "100%" or "Oh shame..." and can actually sound out the various African languages fairly well, even though I have no idea what I'm talking about. My math skills have increased tenfold from doing exchange rate calculations on a daily basis.

I no longer think it strange that people sing out loud in public. I've grown accustomed to life moving slow - traffic, queues, internet service, restaurant orders. I'm used to someone standing at every stop light asking for money, food, or clothes.

I still haven't seen an elephant in South Africa.

I still can't drive a stick shift car.

My eating habits have majorly changed. I enjoy game meat more than I enjoy chicken. I order almost all of my food spiced "hot" - which is super duper hot. I prefer my eggs over medium instead of scrambled. I've fallen in love with Boursin. I still think biltong is gross although I eat warthog cabanossi for breakfast almost every day. I think I need these in my life right about now but the lack of adobo sauce and wonton wrappers will prevent me from attaining this goal. I tell people I miss them more than I miss Chick-fil-a and I only hope they know me well enough to know that means I miss them a heckuva lot.

My lifestyle habits have changed. A night in with friends with takeout pizza and trivial pursuit is a great time indeed. My best weekends are those spent with friends at a cookout with nothing to do but enjoy each other's company (oh yeah, and of course some time devoted to playing in the pool with the dogs). I love dinners out on the town, but also love those nights where Will creates something super tasty and we watch numerous episodes of a TV show on DVD. I guess I've realized that it doesn't take a lot to make this lady happy.

I've been incredibly blessed to share this fantastic experience with Will. Through the ups and downs, we've realized that we have a great thing together. We've built an incredibly solid foundation for our marriage due to our experience here and we are so thankful to have yet another year to keep learning how to be the best spouse we can be for each other.

To put it simply, we love South Africa. One of my favorite songs by is "Africa" by Toto. In the chorus, they sing "We're gonna take some time and do the things we never have." I know that Will and I will always look back on this two year adventure with fond memories because we've done just that. We've taken two years and removed ourselves from our safety net back home and taken on this great adventure with so many unknowns. And its been awesome.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Not the best updater.

Sorry for the lack of updates - I really have no excuses. What have I been doing? Traveling, cooking, and working really.

Our 1st anniversary trip to Europe was absolutely amazing, despite me losing a disk with all our 1st anniversary photos on it (blast!). Ireland was insanely amazing and England was all that and a bag of chips. I was reunited with the Little Friend, her hubby Brian, and her parents in Ireland and we had the absolute best time. It was truly a fantastic vacation and I can't wait to visit both places again! We went so many great places and had such an amazing time - maybe one day I'll sit down and do a complete post about it.

In the mean time, there's this:

On top of Staigue Fort in County Kerry, Ireland


Climbing up the ridiculously small staircase at Blarney Castle in Cork

Have you ever seen two strangers so happy to take a picture with each other?
Me and a Yeoman Warder at the Tower of London

Oh yes, self photo time! Will, his fantastic gift of beard, me, and of course, Big Ben!
The lost disk of photos is filled with tons of self photo gems. BOO.


To update on June's food post...
(1) I've made chili con queso twice (thanks for the velveeta mom!), much to the delight of the Americans at post here in SA. I call it "Heaven on Earth" - and it really is. It really really is. YUM.

(2) I made the pasta alla vodka and linguine with chicken thighs. Both dishes were incredibly easy to make and inexpensive! The pasta alla vodka was a bit different than normal sauces I make - a teensy bit on the sweet side, but oh so good. I think next time I'll serve it was ravioli rather than just plain noodles. The linguine with chicken thighs was also superb - it made a ton of sauce! It was nice and light. I also added mushrooms to it because I just can't help myself.

(3) Why am I even posting today, of all days? Well, Will, being the fantastic hubby that he is, made something like this last night. We had a bunch of bell peppers in our fridge that were about to head south. He slapped those babies on the grill and charred them up. After he let them cool, he picked off the charred parts and put the rest in our food processor. Add some garlic and walnuts (yes, walnuts - not pine nuts), parmesan cheese, and presto - its pesto! Will tossed it with some egg noodles and it made a fantastic meatless Monday dish. I love recipes that use what you already have on hand to make something incredibly yummy!

(4) Completely unrelated to food, but noteworthy: Since its so cold outside, Will and I have been watching lots of tv shows on DVD. We're smack in the middle of Entourage, which we both really like. We recently finished Murder One and Damages - both shows were excellent! We're also caught up on Rescue Me and the beginning of The Closer.

Life is good.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Recipes to try when we get back!

Because when I'm bored and don't feel well, I like to look at recipes, specifically on this site...

Homemade Chicken Strips

Shrimp Risotto ...except I want to make mine tomato based... and SPICY!

Apple Tart - not that I'm the best baker or that I really love baked apples, but this looks tasty and fun...

Bread! I want to make bread in a dutch oven!

Chili con queso - because mom sent me velveeta and I have a crock pot ready to make something de-lish and terrible for you.

Strawberry Shortcake Cake - again, I need to be a better baker and this looks like a great one to try.

Homemade Pasta - because I haven't yet perfected my recipe...

And pasta sauces! This and this and this and and this and this (especially the last one)...

Sunday, May 31, 2009

sick.

Will and I are sick. We've never been sick at the same time before and I've quickly realized how its no fun when you are both ill. Will has a sinus infection and I have no idea what I have (okay fine - I'm in denial about having a sinus infection too...) so we're both sniffling-sore throated-tired-red-nosed individuals.

Plus there's nothing worse than being sick on the weekend.

Despite our runny noses, we've had a fairly good weekend. Friday night we attended a trivia night at the British High Commission. Lucky them - they have a functioning party space on site! They had a cash bar, pasta dinner, and trivia with clues you could purchase with all proceeds going to a good cause. Adam, Beth, Will, and I made up the team known as "Blue and Gray" (much better than our original name of "Team America"). We came in last, primarily because we didn't know how to use the clues to double and triple our scores (we mainly got 8/10 on things) and after round 5 we really stopped caring. We got 6 boxes of antacids as a prize - woohoo. It was super fun, if a teensy bit long (10 rounds of 10 questions and starting at 7:30... yowsa).

Yesterday was the Super 14 Championship (i.e. rugby's equivalent to the Super Bowl). Pretoria's Blue Bulls were challenging the New Zealand Chiefs at home here in Pretoria so you can imagine how crazy the town was yesterday. We met up with friends at Cactus Creek, which has a great outdoor patio to watch the game (and blessedly this time had put in heat lamps since its so cold outside). The Blue Bulls killed the Chiefs - it was such an exciting game! I'm really enjoying watching rugby. Its no substitute for SEC football, but its fantastic to watch.

Today we're beginning the process of packing for Ireland & London. We have no idea what luggage restrictions there are for Lufthansa and BMI so we need to find out before we start hauling out luggage.

I am super stoked about our trip. We fly into Dublin, spend two nights there, and then head south to County Kerry where we're staying in Castle Cove (just south of Kenmare). We'll also overnight in Dingle and Kilkenny. Highlights include the Guinness Brewery, St. Francis Abbey (where they make Smithwick's), Mizen Head, Skelling Michael, Rock of Cashel, Blarney Castle... beyond that, we've just planned on seeing where the roads of Ireland take us.

London is much much MUCH more organized, primarily because we're only there for 4 nights. Its the 500th anniversary of Henry VIII's coronation so all the palaces and historical sites have special exhibits. We're definitely heading to the Tower of London, Hampton Court Palace, Kensington Palace, St. Paul's Cathedral, Tower Bridge, Westminster Abbey, the British Museum, the Courtald Gallery, the London Eye, and the National Gallery. Phew - that's a lot! And of course, we have to have high tea somewhere.

And as I told Will... if I see a taco bell or pizza hut while we're in London, we're stopping. YUM. Trashy American fast food!

If you have any tips or suggestions, let us know!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Recipes to try!

I'm in love with my Crock Pot. Aside from the fact that I purchased it for $15 from someone moving back to the US when it retails for $50, aside from the fact that it has a removeable insert and carrying case, and aside from the fact that I can run it through the dishwasher when I'm finished so I don't have to battle the monster in the sink... it makes a-mazing soup.

This is all to say: send me Crock Pot recipes!

My mom gave me this recipe a LONG time ago. I love Olive Garden's pasta fagioli soup and thought I'd finally give the recipe a whirl with my new Crock Pot, per Will's suggestion. I prepped everything the night before and just set my Crock Pot insert in the fridge to keep over night. The next morning all I had to do was take it from the fridge, place it in the Crock Pot, and set it to "low." EASY.

I came home to a house that smelled so amazing! All that was left to do was make the noodles to go in it. When all is said and done, this soup definitely makes 14-16 servings. I used lean ground beef and added crushed fennel as it cooked to make it taste like italian sausage. I also added garlic here and there. The soup was incredible and we will be eating it for awhile.


Last night I decided to try a Rachael Ray recipe for sesame chicken that I had clipped awhile back. In addition to the green beans and red bell pepper, I added mushrooms and broccoli. I steamed all the veggies prior to cooking so they'd be easier to stir fry. I also used 1 tbsp. of honey instead of 3 tbsp. and used sambal olek instead of hot sauce. I also added garlic here and there because I can. I steamed the rice in my microwave rice cooker (buy it - it will change your life! its one of my favorite kitchen items - rice in 12 minutes!) and just added the chopped green onions when it was done. The rice tasted kind of like fried rice, but without all the grease. The stir fry was really light and tasty and I loved the toasted sesame seeds. I also liked making my own sauce rather than using a bottled stir fry sauce. This is a great way to use up veggies that are about to turn bad!

Enjoy!

Best weekend in awhile.

Memorial Day weekend - typically a time for kicking off summer with burgers, boats, and being a bum.

Its winter here in SA so Memorial Day weekend wasn't all together warm and filled with burgers. But it was the best weekend I've had in a really long time.

Friday we hosted the Embassy's wine and cheese event. We opened our doors to our fellow ex pats, who in turn filled our house with wine and other delectable treats. My dinner that night consisted of wine, cheese, chorizo, cheesecake, and black pepper whole grain triscuits (have you had these? SO GOOD!). The sweet tea we served was imbibed as much as the wine - just goes to show you that its always a good idea to serve the house wine of the South! We had a fire bowl going outside, relaxing tunes on the radio, and just an overall fantastic party.

Saturday I woke up and cleaned our house with Maria. Together we washed about 50 wine glasses, 50 tea glasses, and tons of plates and forks. By 10:30, my house was sparkling. Note to self: always have parties on Friday nights when Maria can help clean up the next day!

We went to a food market that morning and bought the awesome paprika cheese someone had bought last night and some curious sausage that was oh so yummy. That afternoon we watched a rugby match at an outdoor cantina, which actually serves mexican food. It was so nice to sit outside and enjoy a beautiful fall afternoon. That evening, we had planned to go bowling but wound up eating fantastic sushi and seeing Angels and Demons, which I really enjoyed.

Sunday we ran errands and went to the gym. I went swimming for the first time since we've moved here and I had the whole pool to myself. So nice! That evening we had Geet for dinner, my favorite Indian place. Yummy. We also watched the Rescue Me season 5 episodes that mom sent us (THANK YOU!).

Monday was another lazy day with no plans. We finished up our wedding album, did a couple things around the house, made dog food, and did the grocery shopping. Monday evening Will made a fire in our borrowed fire pit and we ate outside under the stars - a delicious homegrown arugula salad (just arugula, cherry tomatoes, olive oil, shaved parmesan, and lemon juice) plus an amazing steak. It was so nice to sit outside in the cool weather by the warm fire, talking about our plans for the future while stars went shooting by. A perfect end to a perfect weekend!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Spandex a go-go

This week was a miraculous week for me. I made it to the gym three different times* (Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday night) and took three different classes. WOOT! Its a first since being here in SA, and honestly, a bit sad. There are various and sundry reasons why I don't make it to the gym as often as I should (after being inside all day, I like to run outside... I've been out of the country.... sometimes I just don't want to), and they are all pretty lame so....

Why am I posting about the gym? I think with all things here, its just interesting to see how things are the same yet so very different. Sometimes I can barely understand the instructor because of South African phrases that are used during a cardio class. I find myself watching others rather than relying on what the instructor says because 90% of the time I have no earthly idea what came out of their mouth. I also find it fascinating to look at what people decide to wear to the gym. The shoes, the spandex, the tops... its all so different from what we're used to in the states. Its not bad, but its just interesting to see how everyone else looks the same (all black spandex, black shoes, etc.) and me in my Old Navy tank top, yoga capris, white ankle socks, and pink and silver running shoes = big sign that I'm clearly not from around here....

anyway!

This week I did kickboxing, body conditioning, and Zumba. Kickboxing was awesome. I forgot how much I like that class plus we had a great instructor. We actually did half the class with weighted poles, which made me feel very Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle (did I just type that?) and tough. Great workout.

Body conditioning is South Africa's mix of hell on earth. Part cardio, part weight-lifting - its tough! Even though that class kicks my arse, I can tell. I love the way I feel afterward, like I got a total body workout in 60 minutes.

Tonight Beth and I tried Zumba. They premiered it at our gym tonight for the first time so we figured we might as well go when no one else knows what they are doing either. Ha! Chelsea has been raving about Zumba forever (and is training to become an instructor! awesome!) so when I saw it offered at the gym, I knew it was a must.

I'm in love!

Zumba is essentially what I would call Dance Party USA. Its mostly latin dancing (salsa, rumba, etc.) combined with some basic workout moves (knee lifts, lunges, squats) and a lot of shaking your hips and more. Our class also had some line dancing and the twist, which made the class really fun for me. It was great to workout to country music for a change! There was also a touch of belly dancing in the class. I know I looked horrificly awkward, but I didn't care. I had FUN. To be honest, it reminded me a lot of Jazzercise, but just a lot more awesomer. ha! I will definitely be going again. It just makes me realize I really need to buy some shoes for working out in the classroom. Fun!

*I feel its important to log my 2 mile run on Sunday, which was not going to the gym, but a way to start off the week with a little exercise in the great outdoors.

Monday, May 4, 2009

driving.

I'm driving in South Africa. Its true. Well wait, not right now as I type this. But today and a couple days before that, I have driven here and there. And its exciting.

With Will gone, I am now reliant on driving myself around. Before Will left, I had the fantastic opportunity to demonstrate amazing ineptitude at learning to drive a stick shift hoss of a car in 30 minutes. Let me take the opportunity to remind you of the hoss:

I'm fantastic at shifting from 1st gear to 2nd gear (with my left hand, no less!) and backing the hoss up... all on flat ground, mind you. But driving through the incredibly steep hills of Pretoria while weaving through narrow roads all without someone telling me about keeping it between 200-300rpms (or something like that)? It just wasn't meant to be. As I told Will, if he was sitting in the passenger seat telling me what to do, different story. But he's not here so...

I had resigned myself to being car-less for the 17 days that Will is gone. I was going to get rides to work by walking down to the guest house 0.5 miles from my house and picking up the ride with the temporary staffers. I was going to walk the 2 mile round trip to the grocery store and/or restaurants to get necessary supplies and sustenance (have so far done this twice since Will has been gone - I love it!). All other fun was just going to be reliant on those who had mercy on my car-less soul.

And then... an offer we couldn't refuse. A friend of ours offered to trade cars during Will's absence, allowing me to graciously drive their automatic Volvo station wagon (I LOVE IT) while they took our beloved Hoss, their dream car (and they promptly took it on safari).

When I first got behind the wheel, it was weird. WEIRD. I hadn't sat in a driver's seat since for 10 months! But that wasn't what was weird. It was the seat belt coming over my right shoulder instead of my left. It was being in a car low to the ground after riding in the Defender for so many months. It was getting acclimated to a car with all the bells and whistles (I'm in love with the seat warmer, thankyouverymuch. the dingdingding to let you know you're about to back into something is awesome too).

For my practice lesson, I successfully backed out and conquered a round-about. Woohoo. And then I hit a curb. All confidence was shattered as I thought, there. I've done it. I've busted their front bumper (I didn't, for the record). And so the car has pretty much sat in my driveway, for fear that I somehow have an inability to grasp the sheer size of that car (did I mention that this is a volvo station wagon and not a teeny Yarus type car?).

But I'm getting better. I am still pulling through parking spaces and going to the most empty part of the (patrolled) parking lot to get a space as the parking spaces are teeny here and I just don't feel confident that I will pull myself into the space successfully. The streets go from being extremely narrow to those "luxurious wide lanes" that Elaine finds on Seinfeld, thanks to Kramer. At times I feel I have enough space, at other times I feel that the car next to me is going to side-swipe me (in reality, there's probably like 6 foot of space between us - who knows).

The thing is... I've realized I miss driving. I actually really enjoy it. I love getting in a car and singing along to the radio as loud as I want (I usually tone it down a notch for Will so as to not sing full volume in his face as he drives). I actually think round-abouts are a bit fun. I realize I really miss not being able to jump in the car and drive for two miles to see someone I love.

Tonight I'm happy to report that I drove to the gym. I went to kick-boxing, which was actually really really fun. I enjoyed the instructor and the variety of the moves presented in the class. My plan is to go to the gym and try new classes this week. Tomorrow night I'm trying a class called Powerpump, which I'm hoping is like Body Pump, the best class ever. Chelsea's beloved Zumba class is being offered for the first time on Thursday night, so I am definitely going to that. Some pilates and yoga may be mixed in there somewhere... I am just looking forward to mixing up my exercise routine (and being in town long enough to go to the gym instead of traveling!).

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Slowing down.

These once a month updates will stop soon, I promise. Why? Because things are slowing down... I will no longer be traveling as much as I have been, which means I'll be in the office and at home, giving me time to sit here and talk to you.

So!

With the passing of May 1, we have officially been in South Africa 10 months. Yes, 10 months! 10 months without momma and poppa Brock, without driving on the *correct* side of the road, without Target, without friends and family, without mexican cheese dip, without TV (gosh I miss Food Network), without being surrounded by people with similar southern accents.

And its been good. I haven't been too homesick - I guess mainly because I'm so busy and also because there is enough about Pretoria that reminds me of home that I don't miss it. I guess also because Will and the dogs are here to keep me happy. However...

Will went home last weekend to the U.S. and I miss him terribly. I realized this is the first time that he's left me... throughout our entire relationship, its been me leaving him at home while I travel to Tanzania, South Africa, Angola, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Namibia, Washington D.C., you name it. Aside from brief sojourns throughout the state of Georgia that would last one or two nights, I really haven't been without him. Go ahead - call me spoiled. We've just never been fans of being apart from each other if we could help it. But this is 17 days of being by myself in a foreign country. I won't lie to you - its been hard.

What makes it hard are the two dogs moping around the house and staring longingly at the door waiting for Will to bust in. Its hard when I have a really simple question that I must answer and I just want to run the scenario by someone... and no one is here (Muddy is really good at looking interested in my convos though). Its hard feeling like I should get out of the house and do something - but where would I go? And what would I do? Its even difficult thinking, "what should I make for dinner?" knowing that I'm filling up a fridge of food I have to eat repeatedly throughout the week (I hate leftovers). Its hard knowing Will is at a wedding where I'd like to be with him, that Will is with our family and friends, that Will is eating good sushi... and I'm here.

In some ways its been nice to have this time on my own as I've tackled quite a few projects I would have otherwise left undone. Its sad that my big plan for today is to unclutter our guest room, which has become the room in which we dump everything that has no official home.

Truly, I'm ecstatically happy for Will. He needed this trip home and I'm hopeful great things will come of it. He calls me multiple times a day (thank you Vonage!) to catch me up on life back home so its not so bad. But let's just say... I'll be glad when he gets back!

So what's been going on with me other than missing Will...

This past week I went to Durban. It was quite possibly the worst travel of my life as I got picked up much too early and dropped off much too late. Save for complaints about transport, Durban was pretty nice! It reminds me a lot of Ft. Lauderdale - a big steamy city on the beach... and not the prettiest beach, mind you, but there's something peaceful about hearing the waves and seeing people have fun on the beach. I stayed at an awesome hotel where I got bumped up to the top floor with a sea view. For about $90/night, not bad. I ate dinner at a great little place on Florida road and had the best time.

Most importantly, I had great visits with my grantees. The first day I went out and met with the traditional healers (sangoma in Zulu), which really gave me a better idea of the project. Traditional healers are essentially the "doctors" of the villages here, except they haven't been formally educated or trained. They use the practices passed down from generation to generation to help people. As I took of my shoes and entered the sangoma's hut, I see all sorts of herbs, switches, massive roosters walking around, cobwebs, blankets, and fire pits to be used on people suffering from various malaise. They've been a HUGE help in the HIV/AIDS epidemic in terms of encouraging people to use condoms, referring those who need to go to the clinic, and more. What struck me was their gratitude. One traditional healer said, "Before PEPFAR, I was ashamed because I was not educated. You have made me feel important and I am so happy to know I have helped so many against this disease." I couldn't help but get choked up by her words.

Moving on to more random things...

I realized the other day how much my eating habits have changed here, so much to the point that I think my mom will be shocked the next time she sees me eat! What's changed?
  • I willingly eat runny eggs. Before, I liked my eggs scrambled - no yolk anywhere! Since being here, I started eating fried eggs, but only if the yolk was well done. For whatever reason, they won't do scrambled eggs here (there's lots of confusion when you ask for them) nor will they cook an egg all the way done. Hence, I've started to eat my eggs a bit runny. I'm amazed that it doesn't gross me out and that... I actually think it tastes better when eggs are cooked over medium. Don't worry... no sunny-side up eggs for me. That would take it a bit too far...
  • I ate pineapple on my pizza the other day and it was YUMMY. I also eat avocado on pizza. Try it. YUM.
  • I've acclimated to South Africa so much that I eat with my knife and fork almost all the time. South Africans eat in the european style of using their knife to make little bites to scrape on their fork. Its really interesting to me to watch and I've come to realize, it can be quite an efficient way of eating. Previously, I used to cut up my food, lay down my knife, switch hands, and eat. Now I just keep both utensils in my hands all the time. Weird.
  • I'm a big fan of curries, especially prawn curry.
  • I ate beets the other day. Yes, that's right. Me. I ate BEETS. My parents used to can beets when I was younger and I would literally leave the house due to the stink boiled beets create. Yuck. When I got home from Malawi two weeks ago, Will instructed me to change into something nice and he'd take me to dinner. Lo and behold, the most romantic date since our honeymoon occurred. We went to this fantastic French restaurant that was all candlelit, full of fresh flowers, and played fantastic french music. We ordered a tasting menu - french onion soup, scallops, duck breast, cheese platter, creme brulee. Romantic and delicious! I went back three nights later with Jody and Beth and I got a toasted goat cheese salad. It came with a beet and apple stack that was absolutely delicious. And it came with toasted pistachios
  • So within that entry above, my mom would be shocked that I ate: beets, duck breast, a platter of cheeses, pistachios
Random fact of southern Africa: everywhere I go, people sing. Whether they are tone deaf or not, they sing out loud, whatever song is in their head. Sometimes they are singing to a song playing overhead, but more often than not, they just sing to sing. And of course, it puts a smile on my face.

For right now, I am no longer headed to Mozambique due to timing issues. This leaves my next trip as my beloved R&R to Ireland and London. I'm having so much fun planning the trip! If you have any suggestions, leave them in the comments.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Donde?

Sorry folks. I am around. I mean to write, I really really do, but things have been a bit hectic lately with traveling and life, so here!

Quick Updates on Life
  • We've been married over 10 months and lived here over 9 months. TIME FLIES.
  • Will heads back to the states this weekend for Land's wedding! Yay!
  • We head veryveryvery soon to Ireland and London and CAN'T WAIT. If you've been, give us tips!
  • Delta now runs a flight straight from Atlanta to Jo'burg - no more 16 hour flight! Check it out - prices are FALLING.
  • One major life goal has been to make a spicy meatball. Consider that one checked off the list as DONE. YAY!
  • I finished the Twilight series and watched Twilight. Hmmm. I thought the first book was good but by the time I got to the 4th... wow. Where did we veer off course in that saga? I could never have predicted the 4th book after reading the 1st... and I gotta say, when I finished the 4th, I just said, "Really?" I also was not a huge fan of the movie. Let-down city.
  • Muddy will run over 3 miles when dragged on a leash by his loving momma.
  • Me = huge fan of Susan Boyle. Huge. Happy tears, especially at her saying that nothing will change (i.e. no makeover, etc.) except that she won't be lonely anymore. Aw!
  • Mom successfully mailed pickles and monterey jack cheese from the states - yay mom!
And country updates...

Zimbabwe
My first impression of Zimbabwe? A giant gold-framed photo of Robert Mugabe staring down at me as I enter the airport. Walking 20 more steps, there's another... walking 20 more steps, there's another... and so on and so on and so on. Its clear - I'm officially in Zimbabwe.

As I exited the airport, I wasn't sure what would come next. Would I see the devastation I saw on CNN - trash filled streets, skeletons of people, dirty water? Surprisingly I saw what looks like my adoptive home for the past 9 months - it looks a lot like South Africa, except for even more trees - crazy huh? As I drove around, I took pictures of things on the side of the road. Next thing I knew I was in downtown Harare, surrounded by skyscrapers, clean streets, and palm trees. Hmmm. Not the Harare I saw on CNN at all!

All in all, people were friendly, I found lunch for under $5, and even though my room had no a/c, I was very comfortable and safe. I'd happily return to Harare, despite all the issues that it has.


Angola
Before heading to Angola, I heard horror stories about how awful the country is and how Luanda is a dump that is best avoided. I expected the worst - much like I thought Zimbabwe was going to be in my head.

Note to my future self: travel to Angola is long, hot, and arduous. I woke up at 4:00am to be ready to be driven to the airport at 4:30 in order to make my 7:45am flight. We get to the airport only to find - the stupid terminals don't open before 6:30am. This means standing in line at the boring airport just waiting. People coming up to the terminal, acting like they will open, only to run away again. sigh. Not good for my patience. Our layover in Namibia was fine, but just frustrating that we weren't on a direct flight. My patience was almost all used up and then...


It was time to board the flight to Angola. First, they load people from either side of the plane which would be fine if they were checking tickets, except they weren't. People sitting in the front of the plane loaded the back of the plane and vice versa. The aisles on this tiny plane were just not wide enough for people to push through. Second, they took my carry-on bag, which really isn't that huge. I gave it to them thinking no big deal. I get on board and notice practically everyone is carrying 3 bags, if not more. One guy was carrying a huge duffel bag AND A GUITAR... and they took my little suitcase? People must know something I don't. I get over it, settle in, and relax on the way into Luanda.


We land. My suitcase isn't waiting at the bottom of my steps like it should be. I instantly worry as it contains my laptop, makeup, change of clothes, etc. Everything I need for the next two weeks in case my luggage is lost. I get on the people mover to go to the check-in... and O.M.G. CHAOS!


I've never seen such a thing. The passport control was like one mass of 200 people just waiting to get through. No lines, no papers to fill out, nothing. If/when I go back to Angola, I am either taking a good book and snack and waiting for the crowd to die down in the back of passport control or I will find someone to give me diplomatic preference. It took me 2 HOURS to get through passport control. Yowsa. By the way, did I mention there's no A/C in the airport? So yes, I just sweated in the 100 degree heat of the room waiting to get through... YUCK!


With my patience worn, I slip through customs in a mad search of my carry-on bag which has been separated from me for over 2 hours now. I round the corner and then...


MY WORST NIGHTMARE. BAGGAGE CLAIM HELL.


This is where your luggage goes to die. If you've ever lost a bag, I guarantee you its in Luanda. No conveyer belts were working and luggage, boxes, and random items were strewn through a massive room. What was definitely absent was a place where all luggage stowed underneath the plane was placed. I about burst into tears. I found someone who worked at the airport, explained in broken spanish that I lost my luggage and next thing I know, I am taken into a back room where I show my luggage receipt. Then I am shoved into this incredible warehouse of... LUGGAGE. Black suitcases upon black suitcases upon black suitcases, stacked straight to the ceiling. I'm being yelled at in Portuguese as I realize... I will never find this bag if I am expected to sort through this mess. I breeze past the airport security in search of Dyad.


As I leave the room, I spot it! There, wedged in between a conveyor belt and wall - my carry-on bag! I run across the conveyor belt (there goes being conspicuous) and retrieve the bag, so happy to find it - and immediately spot my other bag.


Blood pressure drops. Life is fine.


Dyad and I manage to find our driver in the chaos, to skip some crazy search on the way out, and make it to the hotel. All in all, it took over 12 hours to get to the hotel after getting in the car this morning. Crazy!


Blessedly, the hotel was comfortable - clean sheets, comfy bed, A/C, internet, hot water. Not the nicest place I've ever stayed but it was comfortable and clean and after the long journey, it was a blessed respite. The only bad thing? It costs $30+ for a plate of spaghetti with meat sauce. The dinner buffet is $55. A hamburger with fries is $20. Angola is EXPENSIVE.

I ended up leaving Angola early as the Pope was coming and the entire city was shutting down. I luckily made it out of Angola without being strip-searched and without ordering the $5 grilled cheese and ham sandwich, the only food offered in the Angola airport where I was forced to wait over 6 hours for my flight.

Namibia
Windhoek is quite mountainous - I was surprised. I wasn't thinking sand dunes like the western part of Namibia, but I wasn't thinking mountains. Beautiful! Namibia I workedworkedworked. I really didn't go out very much. My hotel was located downtown and it was very nice. It was within walking distance of some great restaurants, which made it nice to get outside at night after being in the office all day. Windhoek reminded me a lot of Pretoria. I hope to get back to Namibia and see more of the countryside...

Botswana
Botswana is... well, at least in Gaborone... there's not a lot. Its flat and its nice enough, but its not as nice as Pretoria or Harare, I think. My trip to Botswana seemed really quick - I'm not sure why. My hotel was really great and there was an uber-fancy restaurant in the hotel that I enjoyed every night with my Twilight book. Going to Gaborone only made me want to get out in a car and drive to see more of the country. I'll be back. Its true.

My one interesting story from Botswana is that a fight broke out on my plane! A French guy pushed a flight attendant all over a bag. So silly. However, the French guy wasn't ejected from the flight - he just got counseled loud enough so we could all hear (and he grumbled the whole 35 minute flight to Joburg).


I'm currently in Malawi - more details to come later. Its really lush and beautiful here with mountains off in the distance. The landscape reminds me a teensy bit of Uganda. I'm not here for very long and most likely won't see much, but I'll report back on anything interesting.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Regular ol' update!

Apologies for the utter lack of posting of Zimbabwe - I have no excuse! I just haven't done it, but I will. I should warn you that almost all of them are taken from a moving car, but c'est la vie, I didn't have time to sight see!

Next week I head off to Angola and Namibia for two weeks. This will officially be the longest period of time spent without Mr. Will since our wedding. Boo! I'll actually be in Namibia over the weekend and will hopefully find something fun to do during that time.

So what have I been up to... Will has been sick lately, which is quite the experience in SA. They keep all sorts of meds behind the counter and everything has different names so you just wind up giving the description of the sickness to the checkout person and they hand you bunches of stuff. Luckily, medicine is inexpensive here, and even better, Advil-CS works like a charm for a sinus infection.

I had some exciting and interesting cooking adventures this week. On Saturday, Beth and Adam invited us over to watch the USA vs. Canada baseball game (ah, baseball! love it!). I decided to make rosemary foccacia because (1) I just wanted to try and (2) I have a massive rosemary bush in my yard begging to be used. I searched online and found this recipe. After making the dough, I realized I didn't have the requisite 10x15x1 pan needed nor did I have the hours and hours of time it said the dough needed to rise. Undeterred, I proceeded using a 9x13x2 cake pan to put my dough and reducing the rising time to 30 minutes on each go. I also added a tbsp of minced garlic to my olive oil/rosemary mixture to brush on top of the bread.

I must report - it was fantastic! It was a bit thick, but it actually ended up being great for dipping in the marinara sauce I had made on Thursday night. Yummy.

On Sunday, we tried our hand at making Chinese food. It was a big fat FLOP. I made horrific fried rice out of brown rice - it was nasty. I have no idea why I made it as I'm not a fan of fried rice anyway - I guess I just wanted to try. We made General Tso's chicken but apparently added too much cornstarch as it was like eating chicken covered in snot-like goo. G-ROSS. The only saving grace was the veggie stir-fry I had made. We've now agreed that if we need Asian food, we should just go straight to Simply Asia, a fantastic little stir fry place where the two of us can eat for under $10.

Since Will felt yucky, we also watched two less-than-stellar movies this weekend: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and Casino. Indiana Jones had dialogue so bad it was funny and Casino was just way too depressing and gory to watch before bed. I had nightmares that night!

We're also on to season 6 of The Sopranos. Each episode gets better and better than the last, but I'm also dreading coming to an end of this TV show.

That's it for now! More as I travel...

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Outside

I'll be the first to admit it: for the bulk of my time in this country, I've been quite lazy. Granted, when I first moved here, it was at the busiest time of the year and I was lucky to just get my work done during the day and sleep. Working out wasn't fitting into the scheme. Plus we didn't belong to the gym and I didn't feel comfortable in my surroundings to take the streets on a good run.

Over the past 7 months (I still can't believe I haven't seen you folks in 7 months!!! or more!), we've joined a gym and I received a WiiFit that told me in so many words I needed to get my booty moving. I enjoy the gym but going after work means its crowded with everyone else that went after work too. I like the classes - they force me to work out in ways I wouldn't otherwise work out. However, there's something icky about being inside all day long and then going to work out inside when its a beautiful day outside. Even if its just a walk to the grocery store, I want to be outside after being inside all day long. Will and I have recently started taking walks to the grocery store, feeling oh so environmentally friendly as we stroll there with our own grocery bags - plus with the crazy hills in our neighborhood, its a walk that will leave you winded.

For the past two weeks I've finally put my worries aside, strapped on my Nike+iPod system, and took the streets (after carefully detailing my exact route to Mr. Will). It still shocks me that even now, I LOVE TO RUN. I really really do. Its a feeling I never thought I would have in my life, but here I am. There's just something about being outside, breathing in fresh air, and going through the motions of running that never fails to put a smile on my face.

I'm also a HUGE fan of the Nike+iPod system. If you are a runner, BUY THIS. For $29, it is oh so worth it. I plug in how far I want to run (2 miles) and it tells me as I'm running and listening to my favorite upbeat songs "0.5 miles completed..." so that I know exactly how far I've gone and when I should turn around. It calculates my average times, my pace, and even how many calories I've burned. It could only be better if it targeted my heart rate.

Today I'm pleased to report that using my Nike+iPod, I got my fastest mile time ever (according to the iPod): 9:40! Woohoo. I usually run along listening to the iPod and sprint the choruses, which results in a solid 10-11 minute mile. Today I noticed that I had completed the 2 miler in under 20 minutes so I knew something good had happened.

Anyway, just my two cents on how awesome the Nike+iPod is. I officially love going out for a run and being in the sunshine and returning to my WiiFit to do yoga in the comfort of my own home (while Muddy inevitably tries to stay underneath me while I hold "downward facing dog").

Cake!

As I've mentioned previously, it is the custom of our office to bring a cake on your birthday. Today is my co-worker Sippho's birthday and he asked if I would bake him a cake since my cupcakes were so good. Since I happened to have leftover frosting and a box of yellow cake, and because flattery for my baking is very rare, I said yes.

I get home after work, pull out my ingredients, and prepare the batter. Realizing that I have extra chocolate chips leftover from holiday baking, I decide to pour them into the batter to make a chocolate chip cake. I pour the batter into a greased pan, realizing only after I've slid it in the oven that I didn't follow the high altitude directions. Ooops. I putter around the kitchen while the cake bakes, only realizing about 20 minutes into it that wasn't I raised to walk gently when a cake was being baked? And haven't my dogs run all through the kitchen, doors been slammed, and who knows what else? Ooops.

When time is up, I pull the cake out to find a distinct valley in the middle of my cake with some charred edges around the side. Ooops. Did I not calculate 375 degrees farenheit accurately to celsius?

Baking genius that I am, I decide to transfer the cake to a long tupperware, thus removing crispy edges. This is when I realize that all the chocolate chips floated to the bottom of the cake pan, making a chocolate crustiness on the bottom of the cake. Ooops. I coat the thing in frosting and sprinkle with the remaining chocolate chips, making what looks to be a 5 year old's attempt at baking a cake. Enter a husband doubled over in a fit of laughter here.

Regardless, Sippho was ecstatic about the cake. It was gobbled up before 9:00am and everyone raved and raved about my baking prowess. If only they had someone that was a good baker making treats for them!

A Zimbabwe post coming soon, maybe even tonight! I just need to upload pics.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Soccer Team!

This morning Maria gave me a letter from a friend in Eesterust, someone we met at Christmas. She has organized a soccer team thanks to the soccer balls that we gave them at Christmas. The boys are having such a fun time playing soccer and "have dreams of becoming David Beckham." I can't wait to go and cheer them on!

However, because the team is new, they are in need of all sorts of items to make them an official team, which include:

  • Soccer jerseys
  • Soccer shorts
  • Professional soccer balls (the ones we gave them aren't tough enough for the league)
  • Goalie gloves
  • First Aid kit

These are the things they asked for, but I'm sure they are also in need of shin guards, socks, and shoes. The boys range in age from 6-12.

The community has asked Will, Heidi, Bryan, and I to help out with this task. If we help them, we get to name the team. Fun!

I'm posting this in case any of my fantastic readers would like to contribute to this great cause. They are many, many ways that you can help!

(1) Look around your house - do you have any of the items above that you would be willing to give away? Maybe an older pair of goalies gloves from your AYSO years? Maybe pair after pair after pair of soccer socks that you will never wear again... Even if you have some items that could contribute to a first aid kit (ace bandage, instant ice pack, band-aids, neosporin), that would be great.

(2) Buy up some of the items above (just reply to this post so there aren't duplicate items) and send through the diplomatic pouch for the cost of shipping something domestically. I'm sure that Wal-Mart, Sam's, and maybe even the dollar store have some of the items above (I wish we had dollar stores here...).

(3) Send a check for whatever amount you want, which I will put to use in purchasing these items for the kids (I'll even share receipts with you if you want for charitable tax purposes).

(4) Send cards or letters to these great boys and let them know you're cheering them on from the states.

(5) If soccer isn't your favorite thing but you still want to help out the wonderful orphans in this community, there are so many things that you could send that they would appreciate greatly. We're coming up on winter and their homes do not have heat. Any warm items (gloves, hats, etc.) that are going on sale in stores back in the U.S. would be really beneficial. A crate of Ramen Noodles would be fantastic and would offer a warm meal on a cold night. Books (easy readers, coloring books, paint-by-number), art supplies, dolls, toys, etc. - these kids range in age and they would appreciate anything and everything. Again, the dollar store or the Target $1 spot may have items that the kids would appreciate.

Of course, once this gets up and running, pictures will be posted soon... but for now, here are their beautiful faces!