July 31, 2012

Zucchini Muffin Recipe - Beth Style

Last night was no exception to my modify-at-will baking style. Since this recipe was a hit (thankfully - I've had had some real misses this year), I thought I'd record and share. All measurements are approximate:

1/4 c oil
1/2 c yoghurt
1/2 c almond milk
1/2 c coconut sweetener
1/3 c honey
2 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
1 c all-purpose flour
1 c whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 c shredded zucchini
1/2 c raisins
1/2 c chocolate chips

Mix wet ingredients together. Add dry ingredients. Stir until mostly combined. Add zucchini etc. Pour into muffin tins. Bake at 350 for 18 min.

July 26, 2012

Things That Are Saving Me

The rain, because it isn't falling as hard as last night, when I ran through the park on my way home and went straight to bed and woke up this morning with insane wet-hair bed-head and sand still between my toes.

Seeing a musical tonight. The fifth time a friend has invited me along to a show neither of us could afford, with tickets neither of us paid for.

Books, of course. Half a dozen bookmarked quotes from The Angel's Game. Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking on my floor, because I'm not quite ready to start it.

Quiet. Usually, there's an album or musical artist on my life-saving list. But right now, I prefer silence.

The Olympics are here and the office will be light-hearted and laid-back for at least two weeks.

Lying on my roommate's bed and letting the tears leak out while we talk about life and feeling insecure and disappointed. Laughing, later. 

A whole bundle of Jesus-type bloggers I wish were my friends.

A whole bundle of friends-around-the-globe who pray with me and for me and cheer me on.

Even the dream I had on Tuesday night about choosing between two churches and being hired as a "church decorator" and waking up wishing I knew where I belonged and had a new job. Because it reminds me that I'm dreaming and looking beyond my little life.

Knowing that things will change because that is what things do

July 25, 2012

No Phone Calls, Please

Our office unofficially suspended business just before noon today when the Canadian women's soccer team opened their Olympic tournament with a game against Japan. I have a feeling we won't be getting much work done in the next two weeks, and I am a-okay with that.


Anyway, watching the game made me excited for two things:

1. The rest of the Olympics.
2. Playing sports myself.

I want to play soccer or ultimate frisbee this fall. I also want to take some sort of artistic lessons. In the realm of dancing/music/visual arts. Vague, I know. I want to do it all.

By writing this on my blog, I'm committing to at least doing something this fall. Something.

July 24, 2012

Looking Sad on Trains

August 2007, Scotland

 July 2012, Ontario

The Exp-hair-iment

This is a post all about hair. Be warned, boys especially, it may disinterest you.

Relevant facts about my hair:
1. It is curly.
2. It is prone to frizzing.
3. People love it. I mostly love it.
4. I've only briefly found a hair routine that had fantastic results, and I think it actually had more to do with the weather than the routine.
5. Most people can't tell the difference between my "good" hair days and my  "bad" ones.
6. People are beginning to call me a redhead. I'm warming up to this idea. (do you agree or disagree?)

My head has been itchy/unhappy for the past few months and my current products are not working well for me. Too much frizz, dry ends and greasier-than-usual roots. I have low brand-loyalty on most things, including hair products, so I did some poking around on the internet. Aided by a couple of friends, I came across two things:

This website devoted to curly hair discussions.
And the "no-poo" phenomenon.

It's almost August, and my hair is inevitably at its frizziest and greasiest; this seems like the right time to try something new. Here's the plan:

For the next month, I'm making my own hair products. After looking around, it seems insanely easy to do so.

I am afraid it will be a disaster. The other part of me says no one will notice anyway - except now I've told all of you, so you'll be paying attention.

I may not last the full month. I hope I do. And then, maybe I'll continue. IF I cop out/this natural approach doesn't work for my hair, Plan B is to find the best curly hair products for my specific curl type, porosity and density via the curly hair site. (do you know there are so many subsets of hair? there are. and you just may be somewhere on the curly-hair spectrum.)

If I'm still doing this in a week, I'll share my hair product recipes.

July 23, 2012

Weekends. They Fly By Every Time.

I had one of those weekends that was good and lovely, but at the same time, there were moments of sadness and fear. Over the past few months, I've been paying more attention to my feelings, fighting them less and giving myself permission to feel the things I do, even when they don't make sense to me or I don't particularly want them. 

I think I'm not the only person like this.

I've also been more intentional in thinking about the happy moments, the things I'm grateful for and the people I love. I find it increasingly difficult to accurately articulate and capture the way I experience life, but sometimes a poor attempt is better than none at all.

So, after that preamble, here are some recent moments that deserve recording:

1. Amelia slept over. Just being around her is relaxing to me. Also, we introduced her to So You Think You Can Dance and devoured more kettle corn with our upstairs neighbour, whom I quite adore.

Karen and I recently came up with an idea for a SYTYCD spin-off show that would partner alumni with normal people like us who want to dance. Kind of like Dancing with the Stars, except not celebrities and not just ballroom. I think a lot of people would watch it.

2. Dinner with Nadine & Matt. Always good conversations, laughter, encouragement and wine. Then we walked down to the Gladstone Hotel for the 2012 Sketchbook Tour. I was afraid it would intimidate me, but I'm feeling more encouraged and excited to take part in the 2013 collection.

3. Train ride to Guelph with Karen. I was clearly in the midst of one of those aforementioned melancholy moments when she snapped this: 
I think I was remembering train rides in Spain with Kirsten, and Scotland with Meredith. I have such good friends.

4. A day at the beach, a picnic lunch, and eating far too many Peek Freans.

5. Ice cream sundaes at McDonald's with Grampie. He didn't know anyone behind the counter... "None of my ladies are in. I don't know the weekend workers." I may decide to tell more of this story; every time I visit Grampie, I grin and simultaneously want to cry. 

6. The Angel's Game. I love an engrossing novel. Can't wait to read Prisoner of Heaven, the 3rd book from Zafon that apparently brings Angel's Game and Shadow of the Wind together. Go read them, all y'all.

7. Brunch with Chara and Devin. Delicious baked french toast, cuddles with the world's softest rabbit, honest conversation and karaoke. The best. 

8. Kettle corn again for Aisling's birthday party. Aisling is bright and fun and talented and delightful. But she is incapable of pronouncing "kulfi," a frozen Indian dessert.
Last weekend, Aisling let me take some photos with her film camera (film!) and I may be hooked. I can't wait to see if they turned out remotely decently.

9. Air-conditioning. I would like to say a hearty Thank you, Jesus! that Nadine insisted we find an apartment with AC two summers ago. 

10. Speaking of Jesus, this blog entry is one of those things I wish I'd written, although my own experiences are slightly different and I don't feel as eloquent or honest. But he captures the essence of exactly how I've felt. 

July 19, 2012

Uganda Update #10: The Boy

The boy lies the way I love to - curled up on his side, head in the sunlight. But rather than a bed or a couch or even a carpeted floor (sometimes I love the floor), he is sleeping in the dirt.

I turn the corner and he is there, mid-footpath between the low parking lot wall and busy city street. I will walk past him in less than ten steps. I slow down as I approach, checking for signs of breath or movement. What if he is dead? What do I do? Who would I call? Would anyone care?

It is unclear to me if he is, in fact, alive, but I reassure myself that he must be and keep walking.

This is the first time I have ventured out alone in Kampala – if you can call walking from one mall to another “venturing.” City planning is not a Ugandan forte; the capitol has two malls, approximately 250 metres apart. Walk out of the Garden City parking lot, turn left, and there are three driveways before you reach the Oasis Mall entrance. 

I step onto the patio at Cafe Javas. Do I seat myself or wait for help? I am ultra-aware of my cultural ignorance when I travel somewhere new. And I prefer not to make mistakes, watching locals and other travelers for cues before attempting, well, pretty much anything. I look around at the mix of people here, and a staff, stationed by the door to the inner cafe, catches my eye.

“Hello, you are welcome,” she steps towards me with a menu in her hand.

“Can I sit outside?” I ask, “Just a table for one.”

She gestures towards an empty table nearby, “Outside there is smoking. Is this alright?”

“Oh, that’s fine,” I say, and seat myself.

“Enjoy your breakfast,” she tells me as she places the menu. Breakfast? Do people eat this late? Is brunch a thing here? It is 11:30, and I look around again, trying to notice what are on other tables without any of their occupants noticing me.

Two ex-pat couples behind me are waiting for their food. I cannot hear their conversation, and am curious to know if they are NGO or corporate workers or on holiday. Ahead of me and to the left is a table of middle-aged Ugandan men. They are well-dressed, wealthy. They must be, if they are eating here. Another table of business men straight ahead, smoking and drinking juice. To my right, three European kids settle in with their laptops. Travelers. Safari or volunteering abroad? 

I wonder if any of them passed the boy in the dirt. Did they notice? Does it even matter? I saw him and did nothing. Can I blame them for being just like me? 

I order a pot of masala tea and open my journal, turning my thoughts inward and becoming absorbed in my own life problems. About this job hunt...when I get back to Canada...what will I say to her...I hate that I feel this way... I write and I drink until the pot is empty, my mind fatigued and my fingers cramping.

It is time to go. Do I ask for the bill? Is it called a bill? A receipt? Do I tip? How much? I have only a 50,000Ush bill. Will they be irritated to make change for me?

The European kids are digging into thick sandwiches. The salads look delicious. Half past noon – I almost wish I’d ordered lunch.

I don’t know which one is my server. I should have checked his nametag. It’s not that they all look alike – I just didn’t pay attention... Are they even assigned to specific tables? Someone has taken my empty teapot. Not the same person who took my order. Did the same person bring my pot? I am over-complicating things again. I find the eye of the girl who sat me.

"Could I have my bill, please?” She nods, and I hear her speaking to another server behind me. The bill arrives, I place my money, it is taken, and I wait. It seems to take a long time for my change to return. I knew it, I think, They’re all rolling their eyes in the back – “That mzungu lady, can you believe it? Paying for a pot of tea with 50,000 shillings. So rich, these people.” 

I am rich, in this country. 

I am at Cafe Javas, in the mall. I am here on holiday, sleeping in a house with four flushing toilets, a room to myself and a gated, locked yard.

When a waiter (my waiter? I am still not sure) returns with my money, I fish out my only two coins and leave them on the tray. A ten percent tip. I hope this is enough.

A boda-boda driver starts his bike while I'm still 20 meters away.

"Sister, I will take you!" I shake my head, smile and walk past.

The boy is gone. I exhale, relieved.

Then I notice him, in the shade of the parking lot wall. Balancing on his heels, he squats, looking down at something in his hands. I hope it is food, but I know it won't be. It looks like old plastic. I think of my tip - a tiny tip, hardly even a single coin in Canada. I wonder what it would buy for this boy.

I wonder all the way past him and back to my waiting friends.

I wonder the next day, as I walk around the neighbourhood, passing a schoolyard of shouting children, a pair of girls playing in the dust of a street corner, a small boy crouched, waving flies off a display of fresh pineapples.

I wonder, as I get on the plane home, if and how the boy in the dirt gets help in a place like this, a place of smiling people and rampant poverty, big hearts and mistrust, foreign aid and corruption. I wonder what his life would be like if he were a Compassion child.

I wonder, as I watch people shop at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam, if my money doesn't help the boy in the dirt, what will?

I wonder, as I drift off to sleep, curled in a ball under my own sheets, where he is sleeping today, if he has had anything to eat, and why I just kept walking. Twice.

Two weeks later, I read of a Compassion visit by another Canadian to another country, and I wonder, Will we forget? What will we do? Where do I go from here?

July 16, 2012

Uganda Update #9: White Keds, Matoke and a Little Compassion

"Have you tried matoke?" he asks me. Uncle James is hardly older than I am, but he was introduced as Uncle James, the donor relations manager for this Compassion project, so Uncle James he is. 

"I had it yesterday! It is very good. I've never heard of matoke before; we don't have it in Canada." Matoke is Uganda's staple food. Plantain-like, it is cooked as a mash and served with sim-sim, a groundnut sauce. I have no idea what groundnuts are, but I enjoyed their purple hue on the pale yellow matoke.

"What is your staple food in Canada?" he asks.

Staple food in Canada? We have none - my staple food is whatever I decide I want it to be. I rarely eat the same meal two days in a row, let alone every day of my life. "I'm not sure... Maybe potatoes or rice?"

Juliet sits quietly beside me, eating her tea-break bread.

A wave of irrelevancy hits hard. I am embarrassed at the thought of my local Loblaws, the abundance and excess in Toronto. Excess that extends from the kitchen to most areas of my life. My life is not only irrelevant to these people, this place, I realize, but totally incomprehensible. 

This thought stays with me as I step through the mud outside Juliet's home, and Uncle James points out where the Compassion project used to meet.

"We had to move up the hill," he explains, "in the rainy season there is too much flooding here."

"I can understand that..." I take wide zig-zagging strides as I look for something close to dry dirt.

Juliet's mother holds open the tarp that serves as their door.

My eyes adjust to the dim interior and the sound of rain bouncing off the tin roof. I kneel on the floor, unwilling to take the single armchair. There is also a bed, a bed-roll and two rickety shelves. One lightbulb, a radio. Two burners, a pot and a kettle.

The entire house is roughly the size of my bedroom. Minus my closet space.

Juliet's mom pulls out a package of photos. They are faded and water-stained. Uncle James translates as she points out multiple siblings, her mother, aunts and uncles. Toddler Juliet, looking as somber as she did when we met this morning.

A water stain spreads on the back of the armchair.

We pose for photos and I tickle Juliet, coaxing a smile from her. Uncle James urges her to try on the dress her sponsors sent so we can take a picture for them. She is beautiful and proud in her bright pink flip-flops.

 I ask where she will keep her gifts, and she places her bulging tote bag on top of the small shelf. I wonder if the roof leaks in that corner and will ruin her new coloring book. I hope not.

It is still raining as we leave, and Juliet's mother sets a pair of worn white Keds at the door. She gestures at my feet, speaking softly to Uncle James.

"She wants you to wear these, so your feet will not get dirty."

"Thank you. Very much - but they are too small... I'm so big!" I protest, knowing it will be easier for me to clean my feet later than it would be to restore whiteness to her shoes after I slide through the red mud.

Back at the Compassion project, I smile at Juliet and her mother over our lunch of matoke and rice. Juliet takes my digital camera and shows our morning to her mom. Uncle James tousles her head, and although I don't know what he is saying, it's clear that the staff here care for Juliet. And the hundred other children scattered across the yard.

I say my farewells, telling Juliet I will send some of the pictures we have taken. Her mother turns to me again, shyly.

"She is very very grateful," Uncle James interprets, "to you and to her sponsors."

I don't know how to respond. No problem. It's a pleasure. I'm happy to help. I'm sorry I don't do more. Each statement is true, yet sorely inadequate.

I drive away, waving at the kids grinning through the fence, and I think of Hetty, my own sponsor child in Indonesia. $40 a month and a few letters a year. It's hardly a sacrifice to my pocketbook or my calendar. But it's a gamechanger for her. A chance at life beyond subsistence.

She is loved. I think of both Juliet and Hetty. She is fed, she is learning. It's a triumph, really.

July 12, 2012

Uganda Update #8: A Miscellany

I am almost done talking about Uganda. I still need to share about my Compassion visit and post the photos, but I think that's it. Except for these random thoughts:

a. Disney songs are so fun and catchy. I've been humming "Hakuna Matata" and "Bare Necessities" a lot. Being around kids makes me want to cuddle up with them and have a marathon of the best animated movies. I think I'd choose Beauty and the Beast, The Jungle Book, Lion King, Aladdin and Mulan. I've never  seen Mulan. Apparently the Madagascar series is also worth watching. I also am a fan of Ice Age and Shrek, but they're not the same as classic Disney musicals.

b. I read The Worst Date Ever and fully enjoyed it. I recommend it, if you're interested in celebrity tabloids, slightly crass Brits or Joseph Kony. How are these connected, you ask? Great question. Read the book!

c. The Food Network is addictive. Vanessa and I watched a whole bunch of Chopped, which was amusing and interesting and a little bit sad. Shows that require chefs to use strange ingredients kind of mesmerize me. I also acquired a crush on Andy Bates, an adorable Brit who specializes in street food. Ah! A deadly combination of cuteness and culinary skills.

d. Fruits taste best in the lands where they grow. So apples are better in Canada than Uganda. And Uganda has better bananas, pineapples, mangoes, and avocados. AVOCADOS THE SIZE OF A BABY. I'm hardly exaggerating. Also, I love smoothies, especially in foreign countries. If it's a fruit-growing country, I will drink smoothies every day (or whenever possible). Also, honey is delicious and more potent in Uganda.

e. Using transit in foreign countries is usually really fun. Whether it's squishing into a packed vehicle, negotiating the cost of a ride, or figuring out what a taxi is (a bus, while a taxi is called a “special hire”), I love it. I loved riding on the back of a little motorbike called a boda-boda. I only partially minded that we sat on our bus for an hour, waiting for every. seat. to be filled before departure. 

f. The weather is perfect in Kampala. PERFECT. Not too hot, not too cold. I love it. I could happily live there year-round. 

g. This was a great vacation. Restful, adventurous, thought-provoking, laugh-filled. After the gong show of getting going, it was supremely worth it. 

July 8, 2012

Uganda Update #7: Homeward Bound

All good things must come to an end, and I'm now heading back to Canada. I've really enjoyed this holiday. Travel, adventure, reading, kids, baked goods and incredibly hospitable friends. I hope that the travel home is more straightforward than the getting here. I imagine it will be.

I'm considering going into Amsterdam again. I have 10 hours and 15 euros. It costs 4.30 to get into town and takes half an hour... so it's either that or buy a book, curl up on some chairs and sleep/read. Since I've done a lot of sleeping and reading in the past two weeks, I'm leaning towards exploring the town some more.

Of all the things it's sad to leave behind, I may be saddest about these two:
My proudest moment of the trip was this morning, when I introduced them to Soft Kitty, Warm Kitty. I`ve been asked to sing it a dozen times since. And yes, I'm not-so-secretly tickling the little one in this picture.

July 5, 2012

Uganda Update #6: Pics

This afternoon was briefly overcast, so while the boys had quiet playtime/naptime, Vanessa and I went around their little compound and I snapped some photos of her beautifuly belly.

Then she introduced me to Pic Monkey and I am having a hard time pulling myself away from the laptop. She's baking cookies though, so I'm sure I'll get up eventually...

This is the life.

July 3, 2012

Uganda Update #5: Chilling

I haven't left the house/yard since Sunday. I don't mind this, but I think I am ready to go out tomorrow.

Tomorrow, I'm also going to finish a job application. Or two, for different jobs at the same place. 

I read a book this week that was sitting around here, called The Worst Date Ever. It's half about celebrity tabloids and half about Uganda & Joseph Kony, brought together by a British writer who wants to be a Useful Person for a change. Funny, crude, and eye-opening. Now I only have one book left and I kind of want to save it for the plane rides & airport waiting on the way home. BUT I don't want to think about life either, and reading is a great way to keep the mind busy. So I don't know if I will start it or not. It's called The Tiger's Wife. 

Every day, I find myself amused and charmed by Noah and Jude. They are bundles of sweetness in little boy bodies. If I ever have children, I hope they are half as easygoing. And I hope I'm half as calm a mother as Vanessa is. (They are genetically pre-disposed to being hilarious and laid-back, given their parentage. Any biological children I have will be genetically prone to have crazy hair and likely be reading before they can walk.)
I emailed Egypt Air this morning to find out the status of my refund. They said I will get my money back. I'm guessing they'll take off the "no-show" fee off, but still. Better than nothing. In the end, the trip cost a grand more than planned (rhyming!) and my parents will spot me the difference for now. God bless my parents. 

Also, for the record, I'm not literally "chilling." the weather here is perfect. Honestly. My windows have been open since I arrived, I've worn socks once, I only sweat when hiking in the forest or squished into the back of a stationary bus, and at night I sleep with one blanket over my toes. Perfection. 

July 1, 2012

Uganda Update #4: A Very Good Day

Today, I met up with a new friend from my plane ride into the country. We rode public transit (buses here do not run by schedules; they run when every seat is filled), got let off at the side of a highway and hiked in the forest. It rained and I got bitten by a safari ant. They have nasty pincers. We also saw many butterflies and listened to birds. After accidentally wandering through a small village, we rode a motorbike (boda-boda), and took another bus, then another boda-boda back "home." Then we ate hamburgers (with homemade buns!!) and red cupcakes and I took photos of Noah's first ever sparklers. Jude was not keen on them. Now it is time to shower and watch the UEFA finals.

Happy Canada Day from Uganda, friends.