Monday, November 23, 2009

Still Here

Just a quick note to let you faithful readers know that we are still here. And well. No, we haven't fallen off the ends of the earth, we just had a million little things around the house to deal with. Colds, minor theft, holiday prep and dog fights to name a few... This pile of tiny annoying things that seems to coincide with some of the most difficult times to be away from home - now.

There are always two sides to the coin, and it is not all doom and gloom here. The most spectacular news is that the bed we designed for Anna and ordered to be built mid-August was finally delivered Friday!! And Kent has lovingly been painting coat after coat of white paint on it for me and today it gets built and she gets to stretch out for once. So pictures of that happy moment are coming soon!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Delivery Day

We try to buy from local farmers whenever we can, but after 3 straight months of eating rice we were dying for a slice of bread! Something as simple as a favorite staple food can be the taste of home. We have African friends who have moved from a 'sweet potato' staple area to a 'plantain' staple area and craved their 'home foods'.

So we've discovered that wheat is Kent's home food (not shocking since his great-grandfather was a wheat farmer). I will never forget the day early in our marriage when I found his delight in freshly-baked bread still warm from the oven. The problem is that no one can grow wheat here because of the climate. In case you were wondering this is officially in the sweet-potato region, and their cousins: potatoes are my home food (there must have been a potato farmer in the family). You can bake 'em, fry 'em, boil mash or steam - I will be a happy lady. I'm so thankful good potatoes are grown here locally!

And today is a very exciting day because we are getting our second sack of wheat berries delivered from Uganda. Each month we get a few sacks of goodies purchased in Uganda on our behalf. These are things that can't be found locally, or that aren't even imported by merchants, and I thought you might like to know some of the things we look forward to on delivery day:

100 lb. wheat berries (after sorting out chaff, freezing the weevils, and grinding - we bake!!)

2 containers 'American Garden' Iodized Salt (don't take yours for granted!)

3 lb. raisins

1 lb. broccoli

6 semi-sweet chocolate bars (chopped finely for 'chocolate chips' or eaten straight)

2 containers cinnamon (local spices are: chili, nutmeg, salt - they flavor foods other ways)

2 containers sage (for Kent's Thanksgiving stuffing)

4 lbs. popcorn

10 apples (for my Thanksgiving sweet potatoes)

1 lb. butter (for the holiday, usually we get by with the 1/2 lb. we can make from fresh milk)

It's definitely different shopping for a month or two at a time, and buying everything in bulk. Because of all the foreigners coming through here we buy other staples here in bulk too:

5 liters olive oil

50 lb. sugar

50 lb. rice

100 lb. flour

16 lb. oats

No it's not Mr. Olsen's General Store on Little House on the Prairie, but we shop like it is. With the boys eating more than I do already, our grocery lists are only going up from here! What staple is your home food?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

FLA - The Sequel P.S.

I almost forgot the best part!

Yesterday Anna called wrinkles : sprinkles!
I like that better anyway

And she called bunk beds : bonk beds
Maybe Joel would agree since he has the bottom bunk...

First Language Acquisition - The Sequel

Several months ago I posted a bit about Anna's first language acquisition. She hadn't mastered her /k/ and /g/ or velar sounds. Two of you who are speech therapists assured me that this was totally normal. It was super cute while it lasted, which wasn't long. She quickly learned to form them in the middle of words (word-medially) and next she had them at the ends of words (word-finally). Last, but not least, she could form them word-initially. Are you digging these official linguistic terms? Yeah, my linguistic prowess is not what it used to be, but I digress... The aforementioned speech therapist friends confirmed that word-initial velars are often the last to master. Whew. She's 'normal'.

General progression went something like this:
"Tent, avotado in the sack"
"Tent, avocado in the sack"
"Kent, avocado in the sack!"

I'm still missing the 'avotado' days. (NOT the food I assure you!) And she DOES call him Daddy 99% of the time.

She is a chatterbox. Yes, sometimes MORE than Joel. We joke that she is made for facebook and twitter because whatever she's doing she is constantly telling you her status update! Thankfully, as I am a fan of QUIET mornings, she is too. Whew! But she gets really going by the time we start school. She sits at her little desk right next to mine and cuts, glues and colors for 2 straight hours. "I am cutting paper. I am cutting paper. I cut around the bowl. Look! I cut around the bowl Mom! Now I will get out blocks. I will get out blocks and build a boat." You get the gist.

She's made for school too. She is the first student to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance. She likes to lead it, "I badulations to duh flag..." She was walking around practicing her 'badulations' for a long time before we figured out that it meant the 'pledge of allegiance'! And here I was trying to get her to say congratulations. It's truly unbelievable to me that at 9 months I had her hearing tested because she wasn't saying anything!

So, we seem to have moved from the gains in pronunciation, to the gains in vocabulary. Even though there are days when I'm feeling really done listening to more status updates, it still melts my cold heart to hear 'Thank you God for Mom' or 'Luv you Mommy'. Those are the 'it's all worth it' moments.

Hope I can hold onto those long enough to make it through the teens... each day has enough worry of its own.

Saturday, November 14, 2009


I don't have fabulous stories today of amazing adventures, games or jokes. Today was a normal Saturday in Congo (you're probably wondering, and rightfully so, if that's really possible...). You know, it's the day to change the sheets, to buy and cook a little extra to cover Sundays, a huge pot of potato soup and some clean sheets. Nothing very noteworthy really. But this week, for the first time in seven years I didn't change any diapers. Now there's something to thank God for! There was nostalgia for me when the baby is officially weaned, when they officially move to a big bed, when they are officially too heavy for me to carry... but I'm really not going to miss diapers. Not. Even a little bit.

I was out shopping in the morning driving at 20 mph (2nd gear is my friend) over our bumpy dirt roads trying to avoid many motorcycle taxis with everything but the kitchen sink sitting on the back, when suddenly something caught my eye. From maybe 30 yards ahead I could see a foreigner. Strange. It was strange because they almost never just walk around (almost always it is easier to be driven in the company car with air-conditioning blasting and windows rolled up to keep dust and needy hands out). So there was some white guy in shorts. Normal for you, but strange here. Shorts are not worn here in general... okay, only for schoolboys. And short shorts are nearly taboo, so it was a bit shocking. I got over it after a good chuckle. And turned the corner a while later to see not one, not two, but 40-50 of them! This was a touristy shorts invasion nearly blocking the road. I have no idea where they came from (Italy?), but they obviously aren't from around these parts!

Really, it was a fairly boring (in a good way) Saturday!
Enjoy your Saturday!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Joel's Famous

Our previous math post made the official Math-U-See blog, and the image of Joel doing math upside down was deemed 'The Best Homework Picture Ever'! Check it out.

Cooking Cake in Congo

Kent likes cheesecake. He likes a rich dark gingerbread cake too, but we did that last year. So this year I wanted to make him a raspberry swirl cheesecake for his birthday. I know it's shooting a bit high, and I should probably have a talk with myself (again) about having more realistic expectations. I enjoy a bit of a challenge in dessert-creation. And besides, in a land of no cake mixes any cake of any sort will be work. Might as well be something different we will all enjoy. Not to mention the fact that we've just finished 3 other more traditional cakes off after 2 straight weeks of birthdays. We're caked out. Time for cheesecake! I really should have made it a full day in advance, but that was Sunday so tough.

In case you were wondering, there is no cream cheese here.



BUT… we had our yogurt spoil last week, and spoiled yogurt strained through cheesecloth (good to get rid of the alcoholic vinegary whey) for a few days ends up looking a bit like cottage cheese and tasting a lot like cream cheese. SO… I was prepared with my 3 ½ cups of cream cheese!

Now there are no raspberries here either.



BUT… the UN cast-offs shop has raspberry jam! And if you boil and whip jam you can get a sauce thin enough to swirl. Thank God for an old Kitchen Aid to do all this mixing and whipping!

I’m sure you’re seeing the pattern here… There are no graham crackers here for the crust, and usually British ‘digestive biscuits’ make a decent substitute, but I was out of them and so were stores.

Hakuna biscuits.


BUT… Kent had a cup of cookie crumbs in the fridge from a failed dark chocolate gingersnaps experiment and with a few more cookie crumbs I found plus melted margarine and quick-cooking oats it morphed into a ‘real’ crust. SO… we had a chocolate-ginger-something crust!

You can see why there is never a short answer to “What do you eat in Africa?”

Other than changing most of the ingredients I did exactly what the online lady 'erin' said to do, even putting one egg in at a time and pouring the sugar continuously. I did end up beating the batter? a bit longer than I have before, but I think it made for a smoother texture in the end. Here it is in the oven!!! I’m always a bit apprehensive trying a new recipe with 4 substituted ingredients, but it’s equally as thrilling when it works!

We topped the edges with more raspberry jam sauce and stuck dark chocolate chunks around the edges (instead of those luscious fresh raspberries in the pictures), and drizzled Kent’s signature dark chocolate sauce over the served pieces. Now Kent would’ve been thrilled to have chocolate sauce all over any of it, but there is where we differ. True confessions. Now the ugly truth comes out... Kent would actually prefer a chocolate cheesecake, but...

I have a fruit-chocolate taboo,

which extends to yogurt.

There’s just something I detest about ‘sour’ with ‘chocolate’.

No chocolate frozen yogurt thanks.

No chocolate cheesecake thanks.

No chocolate oranges thanks.


I enjoy chocolate in just about everything else. So I had some pretty selfish motives in shooting for a raspberry swirl cheesecake: This was made for me to be able to enjoy Kent’s cake without the chocolate and raspberry and yogurt touching. =)

And it was GOO-OOD!


My apologies for a strange format of our blog these days. I haven't yet figured out if my techno-ignorant self deleted some important codes somewhere, or if blogger is having a really bad week. Please bear with us.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Happy Birthday to Dady

After traversing the globe and East Africa this year, Kent was looking forward to celebrating with a quiet day at home. Early in the morning he got to chat on the computer with his sister for the first time.

Yeah for technology! For mid-morning snack Anna delivered his first treat: Sugar free Extra dark Chocolate with a kiss) as he worked on his computer. While he worked, I was in the kitchen frantically working on a raspberry swirl cheesecake (see next post for the whole cooking story...). For now I'll just say, the cake worked - yay!

I include the second picture only because it shows how much help he had in blowing (check out Anna's cheeks!) out candles. Kent chose garlic cheese white sauce over penne and broccoli for his birthday dinner and we had sides of rosemary rolls (from again) and ginger stir-fried green beans too. He treated himself to a Tangawizi (Ginger beer) that's really strong.

Proof that he got presents.

I brought all sorts of Cmas wrapping paper neatly folded in the suitcase, but somehow forgot the birthday paper. Hm. Who knew that making your own wrapping paper could be fun? James drew stars and bats for 'Dady' (and a token Cmas tree because that was the example of wrapping paper I had to show him), and the kids learned how to curl paper ribbons. Yes, you can curl paper (gently).

Bob the Builder seems to have hi-jacked Kent’s office and it is filled with tools and parts of things to help renovate this house. Needless to say, it is not very conducive to thinking, so our handmade presents focused on sprucing up his office. He got new curtains, matching desk dust cloth (made from one of those sheets we picked up from the 'Games I post), more dark chocolate (Swiss - 80% - with Tanzania on the label? Go figure), chocolate gingersnaps (that worked!)...

...and a decorated crafty can from the kids for pencils. (Anna DID eventually let go of the bag of cookies.) The kids did a nice job gluing fun pictures onto their cans, and Anna did a stellar job of cutting up a million tiny pieces to help. Cleaning up was another story...

Overall he deemed it a fun and tasty birthday!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Medieval Helpdesk

I post this for 4 reasons:

1) I found it funny.

2) It's filmed by a Norwegian Broadcasting Company and I'm somewhat Norwegian. Hey! It's just fun to listen to them speak and here the cognates with English.

3) For John, who knows what it's like to be the 'helpdesk'.

and 4) Because it makes me think about literacy. Being a literacy specialist in Africa I have first-hand experience to prove that we take our literature-rich environment for granted. While it's a funny look at modern help desks, it's also sobering to realize that there are remote regions where this could still happen today. Hope you enjoy!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Games I: Space Bubble

As many of you know, our 3 little fair-haired kiddos are the only white people under the age of 20 in this town (and probably for quite some surrounding distance as well). There are a few other families usually here, who are currently in the US, leaving my mzungu (foreign) kids for this year. So... whenever we go out we attract attention, which is putting it mildly. I could hide in a burka and people would still know I'm the white lady with twin boys (that's what they keep saying anyway).

This morning started out with the boys normal morning walk. Only today they came across a family with a line of Value Village cast-off sheets for sale. Since I love to buy these for sewing things around the house (cheap, sometimes cute cotton? yes!) Kent stopped and looked. He deemed it worth bringing me back later. Well, the kids didn't want to be left home with nothing else to do on a Saturday morning, so all five of us ventured down the road on foot smiling, waving and trying not to be annoyed at so many pairs of curious eyes. We wound our way down into a residential area just 1/2 mile from our house and started 'shopping'. The more we stay in one place, the more the crowd has time to gather, and soon there were around 20 children hanging around looking at our 3.

James has become accustomed to this. It no longer scares him. The kids mean no harm. They're just curious. After all, we are aliens. And inevitably, there is some kind of game that begins whether children have a common language and culture or not. But as aliens, we don't know the right games (at least not yet), so new games are invented. For the next little while I will describe one of these unique alien games in separate posts, so you can get a feel for life here.

Game I: Space Bubble
The Space Bubble game involves the alien trying to get the non-alien into his space bubble. He wins by tagging (much like traditional 'tag'), but the alien is always 'it'. This is the game James was soon playing with most of the children in the road (between moments of dodging motorcycles) this morning. And lest you Eeyore-types out there think the kids are secretly terrorizing each other in this game, stand corrected. I assure you both aliens and non-aliens are having a blast playing this Space Bubble game. It's only the mortified mother-ship who doesn't enjoy it...

I didn't have my camera to show you the game in action, but I do have a previous example of the Space Bubble game recorded from a few months back when we visited the one and only playground in town at a nearby orphanage school. Here Joel swings inside his Space Bubble. He's not trying very hard to win the game...

In a really active game of Space Bubble, all players are in constant motion around/within the invisible bubble, which looks much like a kindergarten soccer game with 12 players mobbed around the ball roving down the field and back again.

I just had to capture this guy on top of the swingset.
Space Bubble apparently can be played in 3 or 4 dimensions...
Let's just say we have a tiny bit more sympathy for famous people dealing with the paparazzi. Tiny.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Anna in a Basket

Don't you just love toddlers? They are into everything and trying every new button they can reach to push. Fortunately, they are small enough to fit almost anywhere! Everyone has a picture of themselves as a toddler fitting somewhere strange, right? They look so cute sitting in the dryer, inside a truck tire, etc. Well, James fit into one of our packing boxes once. Joel fit into a laundry basket of warm laundry (who wouldn't like that?). And Anna chose a shopping basket.

Local artisans weave these baskets for common shopping. I think these are wonderful, but more recently plastic versions in bright colors offer a much more water-proof shopping experience. Anyway, here's my Anna-in-a-basket! So little, but not for so long...

I'm out of here. That's enough of that. (As you can see it was purple day.)

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Home Renovation 101

In true European style houses here are traditionally built without closets. How else could those 4 kids get into the land of Narnia?? They needed a wardrobe! (or armoire if you will) Well, we have 3 bedrooms and no armoires built yet, so everything was folded and put back in certain boxes. I have nothing but admiration for the simplicity of an organized life without closets, but I just have to have somewhere to put those Christmas decorations and clothes that will fit the kid next year!

Life in boxes leaves something to be desired, because the item you need right away is inevitably at the bottom of the box! Some friends let us babysit 3 of their bookshelves, which in a matter of minutes were converted into a sort of 'closet' with stacks of shirts and pants for each bedroom.

Meanwhile Kent installed in our bedroom built-in shelving (currently housing my growing collection of cookbooks). With concrete walls it's not too complicated to drill in small supports, measure your boards, finish them and voila! shelving. It's far easier to line something up on the wall than to build a stand-alone piece that can never be exactly square (and may not look square against a slightly crooked wall even if it really is, in fact, square!)

Anna's room is by far the smallest at about 7 ft x 10 ft, and one day a design for built-in shelving across the short side came to me. Kent made it happen. I painted it white... a few times, and ta-da! Anna's closet:

Someday we may put a curtain or door on the front, but we're going for function first and I kind of like this look anyway. There was something really wonderful about hanging her dresses up instead of mashing them into another box! The hanging rod is fashioned of cheap PVC pipe leftover from our plumbing expedition and painted black instead of chalk blue/gray. Kent wondered, "So does getting the FIRST closet make up for getting the LAST bed?"

Yes, Anna is still in her PackNPlay. We've been working with the carpenters every few days for almost 2 months. My design was not as simple as it could have been. We were supposed to pick it up yesterday, but Kent found the unfinished pieces still laying around. We ordered it from one of the most talented woodworkers in town, and he does beautiful work, but he sets his own schedule... because he can.

The bed will happen.


Now I just need to paint her walls...

But I'll save my saga with "blue lagoon" local paint for another post on another day!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

A Congo Birthday

Aside from music and the strength of relationships, one of my favorite things about life in Congo is the incredible fabrics! Local fabrics are brought from all over West Africa (I've heard it said that Dakar is the 'Paris' of African fashion...), and sold in 6 meter lengths (or 6 yards sometimes). With 6 meters, there is are endless possibilities for clothes. Combinations we've used: 2 boys shirts + 4 boys pants, long women's dress + men's dress shirt to match, or 2 women's skirts +headscarf + fancy shirt. Endless. I'm serious.
So here are the kitenge the boys picked out for my birthday:

And then they took me out to a new Indian restaurant in town. I'm usually not too thrilled about foreign spicy foods, but we have been there a couple times already and I was drooling over the possibility of yet another order of coconut curry chicken. It's slightly sweet, very creamy with a tiny kick to make it interesting. But it would already be interesting just for the fact that there are huge chunks of chicken breast, which you cannot buy here. So we hung out, drinking cold sodas and waiting for the creamy goodness to arrive...

It's here! The pictures may not do it justice, but I assure you it was delicious! (just ignore the guy with beer in the background) And I prefer posed pictures, while Kent, who obviously had the camera, prefers to catch people off guard.

...and as a tribute to his tenacity I post an action shot just for Kent. Anna and I enjoying hot cheese naan with our coconut curry:

One side benefit to Kent snapping pictures a mile a minute, is that we sometimes get some incredible shots. Anna was in the mood for posing, and this one is my favorite! Who needs presents?

Some friends came with us, Joey and Kathleen, and all the pictures we got with these wonderful friends look much less than wonderful. But they came, ate and had fun with us! (it's almost a good shot of our car sadly enough...)

Then we relaxed at home, enjoyed the day, and ended a light dinner with an indulgent 'Tres Leches' cake (inspired by It's essentially a sponge cake soaked in sweet cream and topped with whipped cream, so it's not for anyone on a diet or anyone with a heart problem for that matter! But Kent went out of his way to make a fantastic cake just like I wanted - what a guy! After her first bite, our British friend called it 'gorgeous'! I agree.

The butterfat at its best:

Here's what Anna thinks:

Won't my mouth open a bit wider?