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!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

a little vermicelli on top

Do you want to know the best bring-to-school summer birthday treats EVER?

Chocolate cookie and vanilla ice cream sandwiches with.....chocolate sprinkles.  Easy peasy, cheap and mighty delicious despite that the store-bought ingredients separately are really not at all delicious. not in the least.  But put them together and there is some crazy alchemy of flavors and crunch and cold goodness.

But this distracts us from the "chocolate sprinkles" lexiconographic discussion:

Jimmies?  East coast US (Boston origin circa 1940s). I am not from the eastern seaboard and will wholesale refuse the term "jimmies."  They incidentally call rainbow sprinkles "Rainbox Sprinkles"  which makes a lot of sense. Why not "chocolate sprinkles?"  Does that not make perfect sense?

Some people argue, and I'm NOT sayin' who (but it's the same people who say "kah" instead of CAR with an "R" sound), that big fat chocolate sprinkles are "Chocolate Sprinkles" where the normal small ones are still "jimmies."

Oh really.

Here in Zambia?  They are vermicelli. come on. Apparently it's the "industry" terminology.  Last I checked, Vermicelli are a traditional Italian pasta...round and a bit thicker than spaghetti (which is too thick already).

Please, people. Chocolate Sprinkles.


Dear Liza, Dear Liza

April Chorus: 

There are bees in the roof, Dear Liza, Dear Liza!
There are bees in the roof, Dear Liza, some BEES!

So get them out, Dear Henry, Dear Henry!
Get them out Dear Henry, go get them, the BEES!

There's a hole in the roof, Dear Liza, Dear Liza!
There's a hole in the roof, Dear Liza, a HOLE!

So patch it, Dear Henry, Dear Henry
So Patch it, Dear Henry, patch up the HOLE!

But it's raining, Dear Liza, Dear Liza!
It's raining Dear Liza, it's raining real hard!

September Refrain:

There's still a HOLE in the ROOF, Dear Henry, Dear Henry....
and now there are rats in there, Henry, Dear Henry!
There are rats in there Henry, rats in the roof.

October Chorus:
And now it's really really, really raining hard! really hard!
And the bees moved in to the tree in the front yard! in the front yard!
Be on your guard, Dear Henry, Dear Henry! Be on your guard!

I'll be there, Dear Liza, Dear Liza!
I promise Dear Liza, Dear Liza!
I promise, I will!

On Monday. Oh, sorry.
On Tuesday.  I swear....What? You say the rain short circuited the water pump? and you have no water?.... and the voltage for the house is coming in at 30 volts instead of 240?
On Wednesday. I will come.  At 14h Really, I will.
On Thursday.  But it's already 17 o'clock.

On Friday, Dear Liza, I promise to come.

Really?  To have a look to see the hole in the roof AGAIN?

Oh really? Dear Henry, Dear Henry?
Oh really? Dear Henry, Dear Henry... we'll see.
Will you fix it, Dear Henry, Dear Henry?
Will you fix it? HIGHLY- UNLIKELY!