Friday, December 16, 2011


The sandbox is a hit.  it's also going to be an ongoing headache.  There are a few options for sand here:  building sand, river sand, quarry dust and filter sand.  If you are really ambitious you can load up beach sand from Mongu or Samfya but it's 8 hours away for either place and unlikely that you can convince anyone to do this load for you.  The filter sand is closest to what we want for the sandbox but at 12x the price of the river sand it's really not practical for a sandbox this size.  We bought 80kgs of it.  this will hardly make a dent.   For now we have the space half-full of building sand and will need to organize for another type of sand.  Why?  The building sand is perfect for building strong sand sculptures.  However, it's the rainy season.  And after a downpour?  The sandbox?

 It turned into a mud pit of the Eastern Europe Spa variety.  It was fun for one day. Also a complete soupy, slurry, sloppy mess.  Fun, but not really what any of us wanted after that one day.  Fine for the rest of the year but we need the thing now! We have one month off school and need to be busy from sun up to sun down! (if there is sun, that is)

The next day after the downpour as a school holiday - it dried out OK but now it was too sunny out there!  It's great for afternoon play but, again, for the rainy season when the kids have a month off school, we need some morning shade and some other sand.  Finn and I set up a shade tarp.  But see that PALE back in the distance....not under the shade tarp....and that pale back, belonging to a friend, was a painful shade of pink by lunchtime.  I'm thankful my two don't burn easily but they also are pretty good about wearing hats, shirts and just making sure they play where or when it's shady.

Above, Finn loading up his Tonka truck (which is now 5 years old! Talk about a great toy for a child!) for the big kids... 

For your next long distance call?

I'm not sure if I have seen anything cooler.
Of course we had to buy it.

The sand in the timer is neon pink, by the way, and the glass broke after about a week.  But the box is going in my permanent collection of awesomeness.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Elves of Jesmondine

An early santa project? Uhhh, no. This was begun for xmas 2010 but the elves got distracted by work and food and football. With reindeer again round the corner, we felt renewed holiday pressure and finally figured out how to youtube a soundslides production. 

Merry Christmas, mom!

Finny trailer, movie set for release in 2012

Let me dutifully give props to The Kinks for supplying the audio from their fabu Arthur album released in a fabu year (1969).  Seems the attorneys at YouTube (aka Google, their march toward world domination continues) get all atwitter when music is applied too liberally for their briefs.  But so far the result is only an inability to view this trailer (still unrated, mind you) in Deutschland.  Nein!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Friday commute

40 Celsius

Things to do on a really hot day when the lake right off your doorstep is oh so inviting but oh so infested with crocodiles.....

1. Dump water on your head. (check)

2. Dump water on your brother's head. (check)


Activities #1 and #2 occupied things 1&2 for a 20 minutes but when we added an art element this kept them busy another 2 solid hours.  Good thing b/c we had 4 hours to kill.  After this we moved on to counting monitor lizards.

Flame Tree study

FlyBoy and little gecko

We half expect the boys to sprout gills or wings. (above, O needs both, plus a good insurance plan)

Here is a welcome November surprise -- baby geckos! They are everywhere inside and out and the littlest ones will sit tight like a little logo on your shirt... or in a welcome (and wet) hand. (that's Owen's hand -- this is one of the smallest we have seen)


What is this monstrosity? An early Christmas gift from SantaMere.  In the kids advent calendar today there was a pile of sand and a note from the me+big guy in the red suit:  "Can you dig it? Yes, you can!"

Somehow we managed to construct this monstrously large sandbox without the kids really registering what it was.  "Wouldn't it be cool if mom wasn't really building a patio??! It would be and awesome sandbox!"  Uh, yes, duh.

While we were away this weekend, it was (mostly) finished and the kids got to see it before heading out for escuela.  We came home from school today at 1:30pm, changed out of school uniforms (tho they both put on orange shirts and blue shorts. how very odd) and it's 6pm...they are still out there.  there was one minor complaint, one angry shout and a heated discussion that lasted about 4 minutes but otherwise, I was able to work this whole time's already paid for itself.

We still need more sand, must plaster the pool wall, tidy up the construction mess and plant some flowers or something to make it look a little more garden and a little less WT-Industrial.  The sandbox is our answer to missing the beach so much.  It's a poor substitute to be sure, but it's all we can do for the time being and it will surely be enjoyed by many friends and be home to many battles between plastic dinosaurs, kitties and various other critters. We have some sand from zanzibar here to add and will start adding in shells collected from all over, some stones that somehow came from Lincoln Park and Cannon Beach, etc.  Bring a pocketful of sand next time you come over, will ya?!

(Egads!  I missed posting anything in November!  For what it's good for, November was too busy with living to get around to much blogging, so I can't feel too badly. )

Monday, October 31, 2011


When we first moved here friends of ours had a wrought iron table and chairs cafe/bistro set made for their patio.  The table top was bottlecaps wired together and covered with glass, the seats and seat backs of the chairs were wired-together bottlecaps.  They are so very cool, hand made, recycled, and as a bonus, decently comfortable.  (they are not cheap, however).  I wanted one, but...for what ever OCD reason I decided from the get-go that if we bought a set it had to be from bottle caps that came from bottles we consumed.  I wanted a diet coke chair for me and a mosi chair for todd and fanta chairs for the kids.  (Not that we would ever in a million years allow them to drink THAT MUCH FANTA.)  Fast forward three years and hundreds of bottles later.  The guys who do bottlecap furniture are long-gone, the bottlecap collection was growing out of control and we happened to have had a visitor with an idea....Catherine?  are you owning up to this one?

We had two prime candidates for a bottlecap countertop project.  they were built by someone with minimal direction and zero supervision while we were in Seattle this summer.  they are functional, flanking the Super BBQ on the Super Q Patio -- one for prep and one for serving.  They are also Super U.G.L.Y.

The first task/obstacle was getting materials.  DYI has not really caught on here.  Why get your hands dirty when someone will do it for next to nothing.  The real cost of building or doing projects here is in the materials.  And the fact that you have to un-do someone else's work  9/10 and re-do it yourself (or do it twice, three times more to get it how you want it).   Well, we set out to the hardware stores with a vague idea of what we might need...thinset, grout and sealant.  What we came home with was...supafix, supafill  and slago dressing.  (Everything has a new and different name and it is usually in Afrikaans or has a trade name which is a total mystery to me.  It happens everywhere i.e. at the fabric store I wanted white heavy duty canvas?  Drill. Drill?  Yes, drill.) The guys at the hardware store thought I needed 3 bags of supafix when we needed 1/3, two boxes of supfil but we used maybe 1/8 of one box.  The slago dressing we have other uses for so the excess will not be wasted.

The project went in fits and starts.  Three years of enjoying diet coke out of an ice cold glass bottle was NOT ENOUGH TIME to collect enough bottle caps.  The coke factory here is making Coke Zero which I don't like and recently, they ran out of the normal bottle caps and everything is being printed on YELLOW bottlecaps.  Yellow? Not part of the "I-don't-really-have-a-plan" plan.

In the end the caps were procured from far and wide -- friends, cafes, bars, etc.  and the countrop was finished.  It was finished in the most dramatic fashion.  The fix was mixed and curing, dinner was on the table, we had BenAnna on hand to help, the kids were staying up late.... and it was starting to RAIN!  And not just sprinkle.  The night it was finished we had the storm to end all storms.  Thunder, lightning, down power lines arcing behind our house, the entire neighborhood flickering for an hour before finally blacking out. And instead of abandoning the project we foolishly finished it.  It is not a thing of beauty but it is memorable, meaningful and for as long as we're here it's mine.

The "holy-crap-I may actually be struck by lightening" pattern.  you like?  FREE FORM and frantic with six sets of hands pressing caps into soggy supafil.

There are funny little things about it I love.  The Lion lager cap that came back from Zimbabwe as part of a 6 pack from our friends' trip see Uncle Bob, the yellow caps from the Blue Moon, the Peroni from Italy (which a waiter once told me was "baloney" b/c of whole r/L plus ESL thing), the 'blanks' from Henry's yummy home brewing experiments, the gold ones which aren't stamped but we know are negra modello from the commesary, a few Fat Tires, and a few Coronas scattered in along with all the Mosi and Castle.  The kids know where 'their' grape fanta caps are.  They got them as a special treat the day before in hopes that a few more caps would push us over the top and we'd have enough.

After three+ years of bottlecap hoarding it's a tough habit to break, so maybe before too long we'll have enough to tile the other hideously ugly countertop. (above, supafixed but not supafilled or sealed)

The best surprise is that the countertop makes the absolute best sound when it's raining!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Gruesome Twosome

Halloween is for many reasons not celebrated here. Americans try to keep this fond childhood memory alive by having 'trunk or treat' at the American School (with american sweets, this reason alone is one that justifies attendance!) and by having private parties of their own.  One family we know has a big birthday bash with a halloween theme.  This was the very first time the kids dressed up in scary costumes.  (As opposed to....tree, kiwi, fireboat captain (and kitty), bird, bat, etc) The result was effective but I must admit that it's not nice to see my sweet, cute boys made up like zombies. They did the costumes themselves and we used a minimal dusting of face-paints b/c not only it is uncomfortable when it dries in the 35 degree dry neat, but the Halloween party ends with all the kids in the pool. (at one point there were 23 kids in the pool -- with many parents keeping track, not to worry)

 FPFJ got into his role and demanded photos and many viewings of MJ's "Thriller."

FPFJ surprised us the most with his willingness to dress up.  Usually his idea of going crazy with his clothes is pushing one of his socks down a little bit...oooooohhhhhhh scaaaaaarrrrryyyyyyY!  He took baby steps to get to his final costume, reluctant all the way.  Doing the work himself (cutting, ripping, painting, putting the clothes in the grill ashes, etc) I think was the only way he would do it.  Next year I'm voting for a not-gruesome twosome.    (In fact, I'm insisting on it.)

Viv's team (with O) won the 'toilet paper mummy wrapping competition'  three dozen toilet paper rolls then went flying and the place looked more like 'homecoming night' than halloween!

In case you were wondering what zombies wear for swimming......

What's for dinner?

When it's too hot to cook inside or when we have a bunch of folks over, we fire up the big grill.  (It is risky to ask 10 people to come over and then to find the power's out and you've got nothing to feed anyone -- the grill is the safest bet!) It's a beautiful thing made from a barrel and cleverly outfitted (thanks to some awesome customizing by our friends who sold us the grill when they moved away -- and then moved right back, but we got to keep the grill thank goodness.)  It doubles as a smoker and has an extra 'arm' that holds a shallow wok or pizza pan.  For ages meat never touched the metal. I simply don't know how to cook meat, or buy meat for that matter.  We perfected our grilled pizzas, roasted veggies and were happy to have this metal monster, even not knowing how to use it for smoking or other carnivorous pursuits.

Meat here is plentiful, fresh, and delicious -- when you know what you are doing.  With much help, we're venturing into meats and enjoying the results.  On the menu recently?  T-bone steaks! O grabbed the biggest one last night and finished the whole thing by himself.  yikes.

For lazy nights or when it's too hot we fall back on breakfast for dinner.  I keep making 'oeufs en couchette' but I keep over cooking them.  it makes a pretty plate.  The kids may give me one more try to get it right, otherwise they are on oeufs-strike.  (I can't blame them).

And then there was the hours-long pasta dinner.....pasta in America is a quick and easy dinner.  Not at 23 b.  We made an ugly but delicious batch of genuine ragu and hand rolled pasta last week.  Everyone participated and it took FOREVER.  It was delicious and we'll do it again, I love home made pasta.  BUT WE ARE NOT MAKING THIS SHAPE AGAIN.  EVER.  They ended up being 8 inch long hollow tubes.  each one made one at a time starting with folding a blob of dough around a wooden skewer and rolling it out then TRYING to get it thin enough and then trying to get it off the skewer.  never. ever. again.

 Casper the friendly pasta.  (who did this one do you think?) O went for a new shape altogether.  nice!

By the time dinner was done we were too tired to clear and set the table so had a picnic on the living room floor.


Our water problems continue here.  The problem, however is a moving target.  One day it's the fact that 'low voltage' tripped the switch for the submersible pump (we have a series of pumps to get the water from the well to the tank and then to the house, another bunch of pumps for the pool, but all connected - it's a formidable setup), another day it's the booster pump that is out (for any number of reasons), or the hot water heater (geyser) which sits on top of the roof is not working or, or, or, or.... What ever it is, it is rare that we have hot water, water pressure, clean water and enough water all at the same time. By 'rare' I mean never in the time we have been here.
 First step was draining the tank.  clearly it's dirty, so the guys were satisfied with the fact that this project was necessary.  up they went.  The one not in the coveralls is the new supervisor.  He agrees to all my suggestions and then does not do them.  (In his defense this is how the way everything goes here, and he also has a supervisor to answer to and it's his mercedes-driving-smooth-talkin supervisor that is in charge of the checkbook.)
One huge, gigantic problem is that we have a tall house and two upstairs bathrooms. It's a long way up. Getting the water up three stories from an underground source at the end of the dry season is the first challenge -- distributing it is the next problem.  In this house, once you open the hot water tap in the kitchen (the lowest water point in the house) it pretty much drains the hot water heater (on the roof), so you can forget having a shower, filling the tub, etc until the evening or the next day.

We try to keep the property management company on top of maintenance...but it is a challenge to get them to spend money to fix actual problems and an even bigger challenge to ask them to put money into the house for things that may become problem.  Some projects they get excited about.  For whatever reason when I brought up the idea of CLEANING the water tank they were all over that.  Maybe b/c it's just a matter of labour and zero expense.  A few people we know have had their water tested and were more than a bit horrified at the results.  Others discovered ant or rat or other infestations in their tanks.  The workers has suggested that there could be frogs.  It's gross enough to think about that I couldn't STOP thinking about it, so when they agreed, I was right there with them....literally.  (They saw I was nervous and asked if I was afraid of heights -- I said I was but I was more afraid of falling.)

There was  a thunderstorm rumbling...the light was amazing but I was a bit concerned about them being up there.  This picture is taken from the top story bathroom window.  There is a little porthole that a person just barely can fit into, this guy (below) clearly drew the short straw and spent an hour in there scooping mud 1/2 liter at a time and handing it out.

It took a few hours to sort out the tank-cleaning logistics -- they  went up to assess the problem, drew straws, entertained my company up top for a bit, and in the end scooped out of foot of muck and mud.  They scrubbed the tank best they could and refilled it, we flushed it and put in a bottle of Clorin for good measure.

The guys, led by our fearless maintenance man, Gesham (l) (above, our roof behind them, you can just see the hot water heater) and below, the view of the marsh behind our house.  The marsh is soon going to be completely full of houses, a real shame for the natural water filtration that it provides to those downstream (there are 2 streams that run thru here).  It's pretty green and productive despite that we are at the tail end of the dry season, no rain since....February but for a freak downpour in April.

The only obvious result of the tank-cleaning project is that I feel a bit better about the water.  It's dirty as before -- it ran clear and actually smelled clean for about 24 hours - but at least I have assurances that there is nothing macro living up there...micro I'm certain of but we don't drink the water at all so I'm not too worried about that.  The laundry is back to being dingy again -- we had clean white sheets and shirts there for a second -- but it's a little peace of mind we were really after and that we got.  Still no water pressure, still not enough water, still no hot water, etc. sigh.  48 h after the tank-cleaning....back to brown. Sigh. What?  You aren't excited about having a bath??

Friday, October 28, 2011


we had to cancel our camping/fishing weekend escape but just learned where we were headed (lower zambezi about 2 hours drive from home) it is 47 degrees.

that is hot.

real hot.

it's warm in Lusaka but it's not 47 degrees.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Magic Key Birthday Adventure!

The boy-wonder is officially SIX years old!

For the occasion....sleepover, ice cream sandwiches at school, a weekend of non-stop partying, finny-dictated dinner menu, a BAKED ALASKA (topped with candles and 6 skiing kitties, as promised), and ..... a special book was produced. For those not in the know, it's based on a series used for the kids early-reading/literacy studies -- the characters are familiar to all the kids here....and the for better or worse, also the parents!)

The book was started and finished in the 24 hours before it needed to be at school in time for his classroom party so....please don't pass judgement on the artwork....the biggest challenge was to make Finn look different from Kipper.  He kind-of IS Kipper.  Please note that the for the last picture, I swapped out Floppy for Siku!