Sunday, June 27, 2010

Thanks Ever So Much!

Dear People Who Used to Own our House,

As you probably know, we bought your house from you without even seeing it first. Oh, yes, we saw pictures, and fell in love with it. The paint on the walls is all the colors and styles that I love, but am afraid to try. Excellent choices, all, in my opinion. I'm even learning to appreciate brown a bit more.

I just wanted to write and thank you for all the things you left behind for us to enjoy. Our dog, Bella, has been having an absolute blast chewing up all the whiffle balls and other toys you left under the deck and around the back yard. Our son, Joseph, has been having an equally great time picking up all the little pieces of plastic that Bella leaves behind after her chewing.

The garage full of old clothes and toys was a nice surprise. We got to make one trip to Deseret Industries, and another to the dump just so we could fit some of our stuff in there. It must be noted, however, that the garage stuff wasn't actually an entire load for the dump. But that's ok, since you left a whole lot of trash outside for us to add to the junk in the garage. So no worries.

The other day, I had a clogged toilet, and was glad to remember that you had left us a plunger. What a help! It tided us over until I could go to the store and buy one that wasn't cracked through. I really appreciate that.

I think my favorite inheritance, though, is the trampoline. What joy! It's been great to watch my son trying to bounce up, and instead sink down to the ground. My brother and nephew were especially excited to be able to take a day to pry it apart and haul it to the dump. Good times. Maybe next time they're in town they'll have a party clearing all the trash and toys out of the window wells.

All in all, its been a joyous experience finishing your move out so that we could actually move in and make the place our own. And, best of all, you didn't tell us that the deck was sinking, that you'd had it raised once already, and it needs it again. Its like Christmas over here, with all the surprises!

Thanks again for everything,

PS The joke's on you with the hot tub, though--it was totally repairable. We'll think of you fondly this coming winter while we're enjoying this inadvertent gift!

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Lions and Leopards and Mud, Oh My!

We just returned from a wonderful safari. It was an amazing experience, and the last safari we will be able to go on here in Africa.

We left Monday morning from the airport on a mid-size plane. Our in-flight meal was mints. There were no drinks served. The flight lasted all of 45 minutes, including the two stops before ours.

We were booked into the Mara Siria luxury tented bush camp. The three boys were put into one family tent. By family they mean a king sized bed (two twins pushed together with a king-sized bedspread over them both) and one twin camp bed. They put Sam and I into another tent quite a fair distance from the boys. All the tents were advertised to have king sized beds, and in-tent bathrooms. Our tent contained 2 twin beds--not pushed together--and an outhouse tent beside an "outhouse" shower just outside the back of the tent. The toilet looked real enough, but concealed a hole in the ground. Needless to say, we were extremely disappointed. I told Sam that I just needed a few minutes to complain, and then I'd make the best of it. Gross!! Just as I finished my complaining, they came by and told us that they'd found another tent. This one was right next door to the boys tent, and was just like theirs, without the camp bed. It also had a shower and real flush toilet. Thank goodness.

We set out on our first game drive that afternoon. At the gate we were greeted by a young eland, avoiding the rain. Our driver, Hussein, told us that we could get out and touch it, so naturally we did. Joseph was great with it until it tried to gore him. Or at least that's what it seemed like. Then we piled back into the landcruiser and set off into the park.

Right off the bat we encountered the perfect African savanna scene, with zebras, giraffes, and various antelope together with some amazing scenery.

We drove on and quickly encountered a couple of young male lions just lazing around. After taking about a thousand snaps of them, we moved on. And then we just happened upon a cheetah. Not off in the distance, photoshop and crop so you can tell what it is, but a for real, right there, cheetah. Eating! It had just caught a reedbuck or bushbuck, and was happily munching away.

After the cheetah, we drove on and encountered elephants, more antelope--including Topi, which I'd never seen before, buffalo, warthog, and lots of birds and butterflies. One highlight was when we saw a large group of something that, from a distance, looked like groundhogs. Except that there aren't any groundhogs in Africa. Turns out, it was mongooses. So cool!

Our camp was located out in the bush, and has no fences. So after dark we couldn't be outside without an escort. When dinnertime arrived we went out to find our Masaai escort, who walked us to the dining room. We ate breakfast and lunch outside near the reception tent, and dinner was after dark both nights. I have no idea where the dining room was. We were escorted and, as it was dark, muddy, and rocky, I kept my eyes on the ground in front of my feet at all times. I only know that it was pretty far from our tents, and also pretty far from the reception tent. That's all I know. At dinner on night two we found a slug creeping along on the wall behind my chair. We told the waiter about it, and he basically said, "Wow, gross, there sure is," and went about his business. Clueless. Absolutely clueless.

On day two we took our lunches with us and went out for 8 hours. A l o o n g day. But also great. We found a rhino mother and baby fairly early in the day. It wasn't easy to photograph them, as they were in the bushes, but we managed. We then saw a hyena mother and baby, baboons, more elephants, a jackal, and more zebra, giraffe, and antelope.

And then we got to the river. Hippos, hippos everywhere! But no crocodiles. Apparently they stay underwater unless there's some sun out to warm them. Which there wasn't. We saw two hippos sparring, as well.

We moved further down the river and then the sun came out, and so did the crocs. Big ones! The biggest was probably 15 feet. So cool!

We spent the better part of the afternoon looking for the elusive leopard, the only one of the big five--buffalo, elephant, rhino, lion, and leopard--that we hadn't seen. But no luck.

A note about the weather. Rain, rain, rain! It tended to pour in the late afternoon, with bits of rain here and there through out the day and night. We were in a landcruiser with roll-up canvas sides, and it was a bit chilly. And the roads! Mud, mud, mud! We drove through mud, we drove through muddy water, we even forded a "river". It was incredible to see. I can't imagine what they'll be like when it all dries out.

We set out early on our last morning. Right away we encountered a pride of at least 11 lions. I say 11 because we saw ten of them, but not the alpha male. And every pride has one. These lions weren't just laying around, either. They were on the move. We followed. I'm sure that one reason that we spent so much time watching them is that they were essentially moving along the road--sometimes literally ON it--and Hussein didn't want to chance any encounters, given our measly canvas protection.

Again we spent much of the drive searching for a leopard. So frustrating! Finally, just 30 minutes before our flight departure, we found one! It was also moving, stalking a family of warthogs. We didn't get to follow it too far, though, because it was at precisely this moment that our landcruiser decided to get stuck. We were driving perpendicular to an underwater road, and the rear tires landed in a rut. And we couldn't get out of it. Naturally, nobody wanted to get out an push. We managed to rock our way out of the rut, everybody helping rock. We cheered! and then landed in the next rut. One other vehicle came to try and push us out, but as it could barely move itself, gave up. Serious rocking ensued, and we finally managed to break free. Fun, fun, fun!

The leopard hadn't gone too far, and we were able to find it again, and then follow its stalking progress. Finally it took off after the warthogs, but, alas, lost them. So cool to watch!

We made it to the airstrip in time, but only because the leopard had already charged. Otherwise, I think we may have all coughed up the money for another night and a different flight.

Our return flight was in a small plane that held 20 people, if you count the pilot and co-pilot. The co-pilot was also the flight attendant. He passed back the mints and told us that there was water in the back of the plane. And that was that.

All in all, it was an amazing experience. The one thing I absolutely wanted to see was the one thing that I hadn't seen thus far in Africa--a leopard. I managed, but only just. Talk about leaving things to the last minute!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Emeril at Age Nine

I have a child who in interested in EVERYTHING. He loves science; wants to be an inventor. He is also an art lover. He could spend the entire day outdoors with his friends, if given the opportunity. Ditto in front of the television.

And he enjoys cooking.

In first grade he took cooking as an after school activity. He loved it. He is usually interested in helping with whatever meal is being cooked. As long, of course, as he is around to help and not absorbed with one of his other interests.

Today he decided to bake some muffins.

I opened and drained the can of blueberries before he had the chance. I simply didn't want to deal with the mess that he would inevitably make. He insisted, however, on doing the rest ALL BY HIMSELF. So I left him to it.

Luckily, I stayed in the room.

Mind you, these muffins came from a mix in a box. Complete with directions. He dumped the mix into a bowl, and then got out the milk, eggs, and oil. I looked over in time to see him pour milk into the bowl. Directly from the carton. Failing to notice the ingredients list at the top of the directions, he simply saw the part that said to pour the milk into the bowl. And so he did. I'm sure he would have just as happily added "some oil" as well. I wonder how many eggs he would have deemed appropriate. We'll never know.

The milk was easy to spoon out, and luckily he hadn't put too much in. I showed him the ingredients list, and he continued on his merry way.

And the muffins were pretty good, too.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Revenge of the Jack o' Lantern

I'm increasingly lazy in my old age. I like prepackaged foods, precut meat, and precut veggies. So it can be a bit frustrating living here where there is very little in the way of laziness enabling products. If I was living at home in the US, I'd be buying canned pumpkin this year. Alas, even our commissary has no pumpkin. Pumpkin pie filling only. So this year I once again chopped up our Halloween pumpkins and am now in the process of boiling them, in preparation for the peeling and pureeing process. Pumpkin bread, here we come!

However, the Jacks apparently aren't too happy with being cut up. Since completing the aforesaid cutting process, I have rinsed, soaped, rubbed, washed, washed, washed, and lotioned my hands. There is STILL a residue on my hand. Picture the driest skin you've ever had, barring cracked skin. That is my left hand right now.

That's ok, Jack. I'll heal, and you're still gonna be bread. Yummy, yummy bread.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Perpetual October

I love October. I love autumn. I love that the weather cools off, and the humidity drops. And I LOVE the colorful leaves. I've always wanted to go to New England in the fall, but have never made it. But Utah and Virginia also have beautiful fall leaves.

Now, its October, but I currently live south of the equator. So, technically, its spring right now. And, I have to say, I still love October. There are some amazing trees here. My favorite, this purple one, blooms spectacularly all over Nairobi this time of year.

Others, however, bloom all year round. We have beautiful color on trees here all the time. Its like perpetual October!

Enjoy your autumn. October is wonderful. Later, however, when the cold winds blow and the trees are bare, next summer when all is green, think of me enjoying the perpetual color of Kenya. And the weather is pretty much perfect, too!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Wisdom Beyond His Years

I found out today that, shortly after the Embassy spent $20,000 refurbishing the tennis court at the nearby housing compound, a group of children--ages unknown--spent an evening slamming large rocks onto the surface, causing $7000 in damage.

Will anything be done to apprehend and punish the perpetrators? I don't know.

However, I decided to make this a teaching moment for Joseph, age 9. We walked over to the tennis court, but couldn't see into it through the screened fence. (Now they lock it.) I told him what had happened, and asked him what he would or should have done had he been in this group of children. He gave all the right answers: NOT participate, leave, tell an adult.

I told him that if I had heard that he was in the group and then talked to him about it and he'd told me that he didn't participate, I'd want to believe him. But his very presence would make him as guilty as the others. He seemed to understand that idea, and knows that, while he should do his best to keep his friends from doing dumb things, if they did them anyway, he needs to leave. Immediately.

Anyway, the conversation moved on to other things; we talked about how everybody does dumb things, everyone finds themselves in a group of people doing dumb things, and we need to be careful not to stay. I told him that not everyone has the wisest of parents. Some parents even buy alcohol for their children to drink at home, arguing that, since teenagers drink, they'd rather have them drinking at home where they can control it.

Joseph's response: "That'll just encourage them to drink somewhere else, too."

Monday, August 3, 2009

Surprise, Surprise

I have a compatible marriage.

In this world, there are two kinds of people: those who can be surprised, and those who surprise. My husband is a surprisee. I threw a surprise party for him more than twenty years ago. He saw the guest list. The day of the party, he saw the refreshments and completely bought the story that they were for a Relief Society activity. HE WAS TOTALLY SURPRISED. Since that time, he has been successfully surprised on more than one occasion.

I, on the other hand, am a surpriser. I can surprise others, but not the other way around. As I tell you this, I am picturing you thinking about how you are plotting to prove me wrong. In short, I am ALWAYS expecting the surprise. And it never comes. I can figure out what gifts are--whatever the occasion--without even trying. In fact, it is when I try NOT thinking about it that I have the most success in figuring it out. I'm not saying I enjoy this quality about myself, I am just saying that that is the way it is. I cannot be surprised.

Until today.

I am far from home, visiting my daughter and her family. My husband had asked me what I wanted for my birthday, and I had no answer. I told him that he could take me out to dinner next week when I get home.

Today there was a knock on my daughter's door, and she answered it and then came into the room holding a vase of flowers. I thought how sweet that someone would send her flowers, and asked her who they were from. She said that they were for me. I was stunned. Mind you, every year for Mother's Day and for the birthdays of my mother and mother-in-law, I send them flowers. And tomorrow is MY birthday. Still, I never expected it. I must be losing my touch in my old age.

Its great to be the surprisee for a change. Thanks, my love.