Thursday, June 30, 2011

Home again home again, Jiggity Jig.


the boy in london....looking 15 instead of 5.

 We liked the hidden animals in the main hall.

The best stop in the Natural History Museum...the BASEMENT!  Skip the animatron dinosaurs (altho it is really cool), check out the blue whale and friends in the mammals section and then leave plenty of time to head downstairs and play.....

Back up top, we headed to Kenningston Gardens/Hyde Park to the Princess Di Memorial Playground.  With the crowds and the heat the kids downed a bottle of water each, a handful of gummy worms and didn't make it past the first play structure -- a washed up pirate ship. O is up in the crows nest here....


 The London Eye from the Westminster Bridge.

and...for Al the family eagle scout, a quick visit to Robert Baden Powell, the father of scouting.

We did a mad dash thru the Tate Modern -- FPFJ was appropriately awed at seeing Matisse's Snail in person, and O was impressed at the Picasso room and the scale of Ai Weiwei's sunflower seeds installation, even tho we only saw the post-exhibit piece -- just a fraction of the size of the main hall exhibit and a hands-off exhibit (the main exhibit full immersion....walk on the ceramic seeds, hold them, roll around and take a nap on them if you like....sorry to have missed that.


"I think we need to figure a way to earn a bit more money....."

we missed an opportunity to talk to Jack White a few days ago.  am kicking ourselves. we are torturing the family by downloading every single White Stripes youtube we can find.  kicking ourselves. but what would we have said?

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Care to join us for a Dad's Day pint....of wasps?

Care for a second round?

These suckers have been creeping us out.  We have a knotty (naughty?) pine ceiling in our sitting room.  On day we noticed a cluster of these nasty wasps congregating on one of the knots.  They weren't moving so we kind of ignored them.  For weeks.

I also had a party this week and at one point I made a comment about them....everyone was a bit horrified to suddenly know they were sharing their happy party space with a cluster of giant wasps (right over the buffet table, in fact.  Today, Mr. 13Socks decided he was done staring at them and leapt into action.

Happy Father's Day Mr 13Socks!  THANKS for all your crepe-makin, ethiopian-food-bringin, goodnight-kissing, soccer-playin, wasp-trappin, awesome daddy self.  You ARE the best.

Story Problem

A 11.77m x 5.32m pool loses 10 cm of water in 36 hours.  How much water leaked out?

A staggering 626 liters!  Sorry to go metric on you but I can't imagine doing this 'story problem' with feet/inches/cubic yards/gallons.

By some miracle we were able to fix the problem with some careful research, some helpful children and a $10 packet of epoxy putty.

We had kind of assumed we had a leak but it was getting increasingly worse and increasingly expensive. Our fear was that it was in the water/pump/filter system.  Rather than call our house maintenance team (who have yet to return to fix the gaping hole in our roof from the bee-hive removal project), we took a week and did some research online, a few experiments in the pool.

The funniest thing was reading an online forum about pool maintenance (yes, I did that).  One guy was worried about losing 1cm in a week from his outdoor pool in the summertime.  Uh, Hello? but this was when I confirmed that losing 10 cm in 36 hours was more certainly abnormal, especially considering that it's winter.  I also knew something was seriously wrong b/c I had just added an entire bottle of dry acid in 36 h to balance the pH where the directions recommend adding a capful a week at the most -- and only if you need it.  I am not going to even try to calculate the $ lost to this leak in pool chemicals.  Instead I'll focus on the money we will save by fixing it.

The research.
We turned off the pump and started 'the bucket test' to see about cracks in the pool itself.  Over the 36 h the pool lost water but the bucket did not.  This meant that water loss was not due to evaporation (duh, but good to have confirmation). We dropped in some food coloring around the edges and did a visual inspection. This was the art experiment part of the project!  FPFJ did some performance art.....finger in the dye and then...absent mindedly....finger in the nose.....

The noticeable cracks in the concrete did nothing to attract the dye so we assumed they were superficial; the cracks in the plaster between the pool and the pool intake/filter were not.  After the 626 liters of water leaked out, we left the pool for another 36 hours and saw that there was no more water loss. This was a good sign - we could at least isolate the problem - the union between the concrete pool and the plastic water filter intake.

Despite a shopping trip that yielded only 2 of 9 things on our shopping list, we found epoxy putty that seemed (from the pictures, the instructions were in Afrikaans) to be the answer to the leaky pool.  FPFJ and I hung over the edge of the pool and poked our heads in the weir for an hour, squeezed the epoxy into the cracks and smoothed it out.

The epoxy putty cures underwater so we optimistically added 626 liters back in (it took a day and a half).  nearly a week later the pool is sparkling and the chemistry back in balance.  The best part is that we have not added a single drop of water.

This icy swim today and the opportunity to put in our air we can figure out where to patch THEM up!

Yes, this is really what it's like to live in "africa."  We have it rough....trying to patch our swimming pools and get through the Nutella shortage.  (this is going surprisingly OK - I even stopped looking for it). Everything about our life here is ridiculous lately.  from the hole in the roof to the hole in the pool.

Home leave soon...but soon enough? Can't wait for automatic dishwashers and central heating.

POOL UPDATE Jan 2012:  am realizing now how much money we lost just by trying to maintain proper pool chemistry with the constant water loss.  we noticed it right away but assumed it was b/c it was cold weather....but we got through the hot season and now even mid-rainy season all is well with very little input. we were regularly having algae outbreaks, mold problems, frogs (uh, we still have frogs), and annoying things like bright green and cloudy water.  but really, aside from the normal cleaning and monthly testing and adjusting the pool has been practically maintenance free.  too bad we didn't look into this 3 years ago!

Thursday, June 9, 2011


The family headed down to Livingstone over the long weekend for our annual chilly winter camping trip.  Usually we go to Kafue National Park and camp at a lodge that has $260/per person/per night chalets and $14 campsites but opted for the tourist mecca (Victoria Falls/Livingstone) down south instead so we could try a few new things with our friends who are moving away.  We also gave up out usual fancy room with air con, cable, breakfast buffet and a giant bathtub in favor of camping at a backpacker lodge at the edge of town.
The completion of the Zimba Road has made the trek to Livingstone a viable long-weekend option.  It took them 3 years to do it but isn't a thing of beauty?

 Below, the bypass/detour Zimba Road....This dirt trail was in far better condition than the actual road but it was still not cutting it as a replacement for a proper tarred road.  For two years this was the road for getting that last 60km to Livingstone.
 Ahhhhhhhhh.  The Chinese did a most excellent job with the new road.

There was a big group also staying at the lodge from Gonzaga....on a 5 week psychology class doing research at a chimpanzee reserve in the NW province (what a way to get your biology credits! three weeks at the reserve and two weeks of travel and tourism. -- they popped over to Botswana to go to Chobe along with some travel within Zambia).   

Above, The Overland Vehicles that took around the Gonzaga group.  These monstors are based in Zambia but can travel to Botswana (where they transport folks to Chobe national park but also where they fuel up at $600 a pop, much cheaper than if they fueled up in Zambia), and Zimbabwe (were their business operations are based)

The place was recently refurbished and was quite OK, the staff was super helpful and nice.  Even the food was good.  BUT the establishments surrounding their compound were noisy as all get-out.  Three bars/parties with loud music until 3am and then the roosters starting in at about 3:20.  And can I just say that a mummy sleeping bag is perfectly suitable for one of me but quite uncomfortable with one of me and one 5 year old.  He's small but he's not THAT small.

Going with another family meant that we could divide and conquer.  O joined them for an elephant safari while FPFJ stayed behind and hung out with the cheetahs, white lions and caracal.  Only the lions, which were 4 months old, did not think that my little guy looked like a delicious snack.  There was a group of 3 others there with us doing the full-on 'ENCOUNTER' and the animals were out to be pet and played with.

Another party doing their "cheetah encounter"  they had the cats on leashes when they were out of the enclosures but they paying customers also got to hang out with the cheetahs INSIDE the enclosures.  Yikes.  We were doing the free, 'voyeur encounter' and had fun just watching the spectacle as well as enjoying the big cats up close with a wire fence between us.  Even a little bit of fencing is nice when you are traveling with a tasty snack (aka  Finn).

It was nice to do something new and I was surprised at the level of professionalism and the ethics of the operation.  I'll be honest to say I'm quite afraid of elephants and the idea of sending O into the bush with two little girls and another mom wasn't high on my list.  That said, it ended up being quite alright, and totally awesome. And, like I said already, I was totally impressed with the whole operation.

The elephants are free to roam the grounds but are called into service when it's time for an elephant safari.  The animals are all orphans from Zimbabwe or are otherwise 'rescues.'  The big momma ele is about 50 years old and the smallest one, Mouse, is 11 years old.  They have 7 elephants, all of whom came to Zambia on foot from Zimbabwe over the Victoria Falls Bridge in 2009.

In every photo I took you can tell exactly where my delicious little 5 year old is....just follow the stare of the predator and you can see where he is too!  It's a bit unnerving.  The staff were great and made sure they knew where he was and asked that we carry him if the animals were getting ideas (which they did). Creepy.  

No trip to Livingstone is complete without a visit to Victoria Falls.  So, visit we did.  We all hiked down to the Boiling Pot (a gorge at the base of the falls), hiked around by the knife point bridge and at the top of the falls.  Everyone got thoroughly soaked.

Double Rainbow?  (search for the youtube double rainbow clip if you are ever bored)
This is from a dry-season trip to Livingstone -- when the water is raging (below), rafting operations come to a grinding halt.  Livingstone is the adrenaline junkie's paradise.

 O, doing his part to hold up the Victoria Falls Bridge.  From the Boiling Pot you get a good view of the bridge...and the bungee jumpers who take the leap mid-span.  TJ enjoyed his views overhead with Pilot Pascale.  Check them out! (the 'cloud' is the mist rising from Mosi-y-tunya, the smoke that thunders.  Does it ever!)

Thanks, Gesuales for a wonderful weekend!

Say "CHEESE!!!"

Sunset on the Zambezi

simple bear necessities

The primary school had their annual drama production this past week -- a DISNEY DAZZLE spectacular. It was pretty darn cute.  The play was narrated first by Mickey and Minnie and were joined by Uncle Remus (Song of the South), Shere Kahn (the tiger from The Jungle Book), Snow White, Princess and a few more.  (I'm really not up on my Disney characters, especially the newer ones, thank goodness.)  The growing crowd of narrators filled us in about the history of Disney, the success of the films and all the major milestones of animation interspersed with each of the primary classes performances of signature Disney songs.  It was really well done, everyone participated and .... wow were they excited!

Year 4 did "Simple Bear Necessities."  Yours truly volunteered to help with the costumes -- I stepped up when they thought there would be 6 bears.  Fast forward to me with my eyes as big as saucers when I find out that the plan changed and bit and not there were 25 bears!  We scratched our original plan and headed to the Foam Shop in Kamwala and bought three giant sheets of white foam.  FPFJ and I traced and cut out 25 of these (Plus a giant kitty head for good measure along with a few foam swords and surfboards).  Seeing that the bears were not Polar Bears, out came the paints. What a mess.

The night of the play there was an army of face-painters and I think each and every child in the primary school got painted: dwarves, flamingos, dogs, princesses, sprites, tigers, lions and bears....OH MY!

And if you are so sorry you missed the show....not to worry, we have a DVD and I pretty sure if you see us this summer, you will be asked to sit and view.

Finn already has his lines memorized for his 'graduation' play in June, along with everyone else's parts!  They are performing "Wackadoo Zoo."  Now to figure out a "Professor" costume for the little guy....we're fresh out of tweed jackets.  Do professors even wear tweed anymore?

How Sporting

The little kidlets are become quite the athletes.  There seems to be no end to their interest or enthusiasm.
Some snaps of them in action.  The little guy, who is somehow STILL a head shorter than 90% of his classmates, participated in Saturday Soccer and played for 'Team Airtel.'  While the team's win/loss record wasn't so good, the kids (and I dare say, the parents) had a fun season and reached some of their team goals.  The highlight of the season was the invitation to play on the 8-10 year old team for a game.  (The teams are very loosely set up....players swap shirts to fill the lineup and as long as the kids are the age or under they are welcome on the pitch.)  A lot of the fun of playing when you are 5 is the playing that goes on off the pitch.  He hit it off right away with a few of the other kids (lots of different schools participate although it's at the American School and so is mostly kids from AIS) and those clowns spent many hours finding many ways to make it down 'the big hill' by the soccer fields.

O opted to keep up with his Capoiera practice which has a weekend session so he couldn't do soccer, which made for some complicated logistics but meant FPFJ didn't have to push his way onto center stage.  Big brother has a tendency to hog the limelight, just b/c he's so awesome, not b/c he's a big meanie.  The group that practices capoiera on the weekend is all adults and that has been really fun to watch. There is talk of starting a kids' group.  The boys will both squeeze in some work at a Capoiera center in Sea-Town this summer -- we found a studio in SODO that has drop-in classes for kids.  Fun.

O has been doing field hockey at school and really enjoys it.  He's doing "Athletics" as an afterschool activity along with the PE athletics.  As far as I have been able to sort out, it's track-and-field-ish with some funny stuff thrown in.  The local school hold meets.  Our school does miserably at these meets but the kids do their best and of course, have fun doing it.  O has learned a lot about non-sporting topics from his bus trips with the secondary students (YIKES!) and has made some more good friends that maybe he wouldn't normally have hung out with at school. Now mom has to decide about team swimming for next year.  He's been invited to swim but quite honestly....the schedule means a lot of running around for yours truly and would mean little brother would be dragged around Zambia to watch swim galas.  I did swim team as a kid and (yes, mom) really enjoyed it -- so maybe it is my payback time.  I'm remembering all the running around my mom did in Minnesota -- and the big speeding ticket to make it to the Cornelius Classic in time for my race....
O running a 50m sprint at the "Ten Step" meet at the Italian School.  The kids did 10 different athletics/sporting races, including the high jump, long jump, beanbag races, and a 50 m jump-rope race!

Four Seasons

Lusaka is not unlike many cities we know and love.  We have four seasons here, even if they are a bit different than you’d usually consider:
  • the cold season (6 weeks around july and august) The cold season in Lusaka is kind of like "summer" in Seattle.  But in Seattle you have things like fleece, down, and wool....carpeting, insulated wood floors, doors and windows that actually CLOSE, central heat, etc.  In Lusaka when the temperature drops to 40F at night, it means that despite the warmish daytime temperatures your house will maybe warm up to 50.  Your stone floors and stone walls will make your house feel like you live in the crisper drawer in the bottom of the fridge. You can't keep a breeze from blowing through and you certainly can't actually ever 'heat' a room. Being inside means being constantly cold. You can be certain to find me bundled up most nights in my famous orange 'puffy coat' and wrapped in my down blanket, wool socks on and a hat if I can find one that survived storage without getting too musty/moldy.  The cold season is dry and windy.  The air quality (very low in Lusaka to begin with), is horrible between the pollution, the fires and the dust. 
  • the hot season ( 6 weeks some time between september and November)  It's mind-bogglingly hot and humid.  In Lusaka it's not unbearable but out side of Lusaka temps regularly exceed 100F.  Where we are there are a few truly miserable days but then comes......
  • the rainy season (6 weeks between December and January)  Seattle and Lusaka actually 'match up' pretty well for annual rainfall.  The difference is that  Seattlites experience this precipitation as a constant drizzle.  In Lusaka it comes down in violent bursts -- the 'season' lasts about 6 weeks but there are probably only about a dozen days of rain in that time period -- and it's coming down in solid sheets accompanied by spectacular thunder and lightning storms.  Rainy season here is Mother Nature at HIGH INTENSITY.  The rains bring some relief to the heat and when they first arrive everyone welcome this change.  But then your roof springs a leak, your car stalls out in a flooded road, any excursion out of town is put off
  •  all remaining months are strangely seasonless and perfect:  sunny and 70 degrees F.  
For the most part, the weather is amazing, Zambia's strongest selling point, to be honest. Right when you get completely fed up with the heat, the cold, the changes.  The change of seasons is never gradual.  One day it's the hot season and the next you are full-on into the raining season.  And when the rainy season stops....there is not a drop of the wet stuff from the sky until the next year (imagine...not a drop of rain from March to November -- it's surreal).

But that's only three 'seasons.'

The fourth season? It's a doozy.
It's... the LEAVING SEASON. 
The leaving season is the worst.  The weather is starting to get cold, everyone is starting to get cranky about “things” in Zambia, most expat families are fleeing to the northern hemisphere for warm sunny, home leave, the school term is incredibly busy and compressed (term 1 is 15 weeks, term 2 is 12 weeks but term 3 is 7 weeks of pure insanity) and there's never enough time to squeeze everything in.  

On top of the rush of the last school term, this time of year is when families, friends wrap up their 2-3 year postings and head onto the next stop in their life.  It's quite exciting but of course sad to see friends leave.  One family we knew briefly came to Zambia from Cambodia, stayed here for their 3 year post and were headed to Croatia.  Can you even imagine?  That is how it goes when you work for the US State Department overseas. 

The Leaving Season is filled with endless goodbyes, parties, packouts, boot sales and travel planning.   (those passports and visas, curiously,  tend to expire from time to time, creating more than a few dramatic departure stories and many many headaches.) There is such an exodus of families going on 'home leave' this time of year that any chance of getting actual work done is abandoned.
Well, this year is a rough one.  Not only b/c we are not leaving* but b/c our good friends ARE.  After 5 years in Zambia (and many more years on the continent) the Gesuales are through with attending leaving parties and hosting home-away-from-home holidays; they are fed up with having the responibility of bringing a wee bit of sanity into all our lives.....this time they are the ones leaving.  It's breaking our hearts.

See -- look, there one goes now, sneaking off on her elephant!

Lusaka has never met the likes of Steve, Melinda, Scout and Matea, who are all in their own ways special, kind, and generous -- beyond imagination.  They will be missed by many families.  We will be making every excuse to catch up with them where ever they happen to land.  (Yellowstone!?)  

Best go, we've got some packing of our own to do...

*no need to remind us that we thought we'd be away from Rat City for "2-3 years." In our defense, did anyone truly expect the economy would take such a spectacular nose-dive? That the housing market would take such a hit?  that there would not be a job to come home to?  Not us. Apologies to all....but this gives you some time to save your pennies and book those tickets.  There is a sale on South African Airlines right now if you book your trip before the 21st!