We're Not in Burundi Anymore....

Burundi, while it has its share of unique experiences, does not have many of the entertainment factors of America.  So, one of the "fun" things we've enjoyed during our months here is simply giving our kids (and enjoying ourselves) a bunch of things that just aren't possible for us in Burundi.

1.  Tubing/water sports of any kind.  There are some very nice pools in Buja.  And there is a lake (with crocs and hippos).  But I'm pretty sure the average Burundian fishing boat does not have enough horse power to get me to catch air like this.

2.  Theme restaurants.  Bujumbura has 3 restaurants that we've ever visited.  Maybe there are a few more.  But I'm guessing that there are no restaurants in Burundi where you can dress up like a firefighter while you wait for your pizza.  (also, there are really no fire trucks, so that helps me make an educated guess)

3.  Zoos.  In fact, while we've been on some awesome safaris, they have not been in Burundi.  And the Rwanda gorillas cost way more than a $2 donation at the Como Zoo to see.  And...there's no carousels in Burundi.

4.  Surprisingly, bowling.  While visiting friends in MN, they introduced us to a program where kids bowl free in the summer.  The bowling place had ramps and bumpers, so all the kids could play and actually get a decent score!

(although, Toby got bored after 5 frames and sought other entertainment...)



In continuing on with our series on "fun things in America," I would definitely have to include our cousins.  This is actually a huge highlight of our time in the States.  As many of you know, Toby was born during our year in France, so most people hadn't met him before our return in April (just after his 2nd birthday).  AND Eric's three sisters all had kids around the same time as Toby...and were all expecting another round just after our return.  Wowza!  So as of a few weeks ago, the kids are now part of an 11 grandkid family, and Maggie is the oldest.  It has been so fun to spend time with all these little ones and get to know them.  Each cousin has an "age mate" (also matched for gender) so they are hopefully making life long friendships.  Holidays just got a little bit crazier...but also a lot more fun. :)

Maggie and Sierra
Ben and Liam

Toby and Wyatt
Toby and Lily

The "2013-ers" 

Mimi and Bapa, Great-Grammy and Great-Papa


Summer Game

Well, the summer's finishing up (at least it seems so judging by the 60 degree cloudy weather we've been having) and it seems like our time in the US should be finishing up, too.  We said goodbye to our teammates, the Cropseys, yesterday.  By tomorrow our whole team is reuniting at Kibuye and we are....still here.  It's been a great time in the States so far with many more great times to come, just a funny sort of feeling this week.

Maggie and Ben displaying paper masks they created at the library
So, with all that, I thought I'd start a little blog series with fun things we've been enjoying and hopefully will continue to enjoy for the next few months.  I think, if you put aside the obvious highlights of being with family and friends, our very favorite part about the US is the LIBRARY!  Last time we lived here, we had an Ypsilanti address and no kids.  This time, we are in Ann Arbor which has seriously got to have one of the best library systems in the country.  It. Is. Awesome.  There are 5 branches around town, all featuring a great kids' section, and the downtown library even has stuff like artwork and power tools and paper craft supplies to check out.  Sweet!  We go at least 1-2 times a week and frequently have over 50 items checked out at any point in time.

One of the most fun features of the library has been the Summer Game.  Most libraries I know have a summer reading program, but the AADL's summer program is like a reading program on steroids.  Not only can you read your number of books and get a free book (which the kids have all done), but there is also a whole separate component here in AA.  The library has set up a game which takes you to all 5 branches and throughout the town, searching for codes and attending events.  You can enter your codes for points that can be spent in the game shop for library merchandise (mugs, t-shirts, hot pads, chocolate, LEGO mini figures, etc).
The kids "resting" while on a West Side adventure

The kids and I have had a blast with this.  About once a week or so we are out around town going to places like the botanical gardens, Cobblestone Farm, the West Side, etc, and finding codes while discovering cool parts of the town, too!  You can also earn points by searching the library catalog online, but the kids haven't gotten in to that as much. :)

And then, the "theme" of the Summer Game is Legos, basically, which is adding another fun thing the kids love.  Many of the codes in the downtown area are attached to little Lego scenes, which are placed in shop windows.  And last month there was a big Lego contest, which kids (and adults) from all over AA entered.  There were some AMAZING creations.  Maggie and Ben both entered, and while neither won a prize, it was fun to be a part of it (and of course get more "code points" for the Summer Game).

Ben's creation
Maggie's creation
The game wraps up this weekend and we hope to attend the end of the summer party.  I'm sure we will keep going to the library all fall, and we'll keep a few things around to remember our summer of 2015 with the AADL.

The kids (with cousin Liam) displaying prizes of chocolate and LEGOS

Mommy's summer prize.  Why not? :) (those are coffee beans, by the way)


Newbery Update

Since around 2005, we decided that, between the two of us, we wanted to read all the books that have won the Newbery Medal, which is given to one book every year that is deemed to be the greatest contribution to American children's literature.  We've enjoyed them and steadily made progress, though it's become harder in recent years, as the remaining books have become harder and harder to find.

But now we have read 92 or 94 of them.  The last two are "Daniel Boone", a 1940 win which is hard to find, probably because it's not great, and "The High King", which is easy to find, but hard to read in isolation, because it is part of a series.  Then we'll be done, and our ranking list will be complete (see below).

Here's a few pearls from our recent exploits:

New books.  Since the 2009-2011 run of 3 fantastic books, the new winners have been a bit underwhelming (especially 2012's "Dead End in Norvelt").  However, this year's winner, "The Crossover" by Kwame Alexander, really was great.  Surprisingly so, since it is written in freeform hip-hop rap, which isn't really our thing.  But it works great for the basketball story it tells.

New worst Newbery of all time.  The first Newbery ever was awarded to Hendrik Willem van Loon in 1922 for a book called "The History of Mankind".  It is a long history of the world (mostly western civ).  It reads mostly like a textbook.  I'm way more prone to enjoy something like this than mostly people, and definitely more than 99.99% of young adolescent readers, but it got quite tiresome.  In addition to its content, the author pontificates on his personal ideas way too much.  It's a good lesson for history writers since, from the vantage point of almost 100 years later, his personal ideas seem ridiculous.  May we all hold our current ideas more loosely than he held his.

Surprisingly good non-novels.  In general, we're a fan of the novels, but the poetic Newberys really have been enjoyable.  One recent read, "Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices" by Paul Fleishman (1989) was particularly fun.  Each poem, with alternating or concurrent sections for 2 people, are written from the point of view of a certain type of bug.  It's fun, different, and surprisingly good.  Great illustrations, to boot.

Most awkwardly named Newbery.  We have long noted the curiously named "Gay Neck: Story of a Pigeon" (1928).  Before moving to Burundi, I found a free used copy in Baltimore, packed it on the container, and read it about a year ago.  It's pretty enjoyable, in the typical way of Newberys prior to about 1950, which is to pick a far-off culture of the world (in this case, India), provide an admirable young protagonist and have him (or less frequently, her) go through minor conflict (in this case, surrounding his beloved pigeon).  Not bad, but I'm glad children's stories have developed as they have.

Here's our almost-complete rank list.  We realize it's pretty arbitrary, but it sure is fun.

From Most Favorite to Least Favorite:
  1. "The Giver" by Lois Lowry - 1994*
  2. "A Wrinkle in Time" by Madeleine L'Engle - 1963
  3. "Holes" by Louis Sachar - 1999*
  4. "Maniac Magee" by Jerry Spinelli - 1991
  5. "From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler" by E.L. Konigsburg - 1968*
  6. "Jacob Have I Loved" by Katherine Patterson - 1981
  7. "A Single Shard" by Linda Sue Park - 2002*
  8. "The Wheel on the School" by Meindert DeJong - 1955
  9. "The Bronze Bow" by Elizabeth George Speare - 1962*
  10. "The Graveyard Book" by Neil Gaiman - 2009
  11. "Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH" by Robert C. O'Brien - 1972
  12. "When You Reach Me" by Rebecca Stead - 2010
  13. "Moon Over Manifest" by Clare Vanderpool - 2011
  14. "Walk Two Moons" by Sharon Creech - 1995
  15. "Secret of the Andes" by Ann Nolan Clark - 1953
  16. "Crispin: Cross of Lead" by Avi - 2003*
  17. "The Westing Game" by Ellen Raskin - 1979*
  18. "The View From Saturday" by E.L. Konigsburg - 1997
  19. "Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry" by Mildred D. Taylor - 1977
  20. "Kira-Kira" by Cynthia Kadohata - 2005 (E)
  21. "The Whipping Boy" by Sid Fleischman - 1987
  22. "The Voyages of Dr. Doolittle" by Hugh Lofting - 1923*
  23. "Number the Stars" by Lois Lowry - 1990*
  24. "Crossover" by Kwame Alexander - 2015
  25. "Sarah, Plain and Tall" by Patricia MacLachlan - 1986
  26. "The Witch of Blackbird Pond" by Elizabeth George Speare - 1959
  27. "A Year Down Yonder" by Richard Peck - 2001
  28. "Caddie Woodlawn" by Carol Ryrie Brink - 1936 (R)
  29. "Carry On, Mr. Bowditch" by Jean Lee Latham - 1956*
  30. "Up a Road Slowly" by Irene Hunt - 1967 (R)
  31. "I, Juan de Pareja" by Elizabeth Borton de Trevino - 1966 (E)
  32. "The Hero and the Crown" by Robin McKinley - 1985 (R)
  33. "The Tale of Despereaux" by Kate DiCamillo - 2004*
  34. "Missing May" by Cynthia Rylant - 1993*
  35. "Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voice From a Medieval Village" by Laura Amy Schlitz - 2008
  36. "Shiloh" by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor - 1992 (R)
  37. "Rifles for Watie" by Harold Keith - 1958
  38. "Flora and Ulysses" by Kate DiCamillo - 2014
  39. "The One and Only Ivan" by Katherine Applegate - 2013
  40. "Young Fu of the Upper Yangtze" by Elizabeth Foreman Lewis - 1933*
  41. "Call It Courage" by Armstrong Sperry - 1941*
  42. "Dicey's Song" by Cynthia Voight - 1983 (R)
  43. "Bridge to Terebithia" by Katherine Paterson - 1978*
  44. "Dobry" by Monica Shannon - 1935 (E)
  45. "The Midwife's Apprentice" by Karen Cushman - 1996 (R)
  46. "The Grey King" by Susan Cooper - 1976 (E)
  47. "Adam of the Road" by Elizabeth Gray Vining - 1943
  48. "Gay Neck, the Story of a Pigeon" by Dhan Gopal Mukerji - 1928 (E)
  49. "Waterless Mountain" by Laura Adams Armer - 1932 (E)
  50. "Shadow of a Bull" by Maia Wojciechowska - 1965
  51. "Bud, Not Buddy" by Christopher Paul Curtis - 2000 (R)
  52. "The Door in the Wall" by Marguerite de Angeli - 1950
  53. "Dear Mr. Henshaw" by Beverly Cleary - 1984*
  54. "Johnny Tremain" by Esther Forbes - 1944 (E)
  55. "The Twenty-One Balloons" by William Pene du Bois - 1948*
  56. "Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices" by Paul Fleischman - 1989 (E)
  57. "Onion John" by Joseph Krumgold - 1960 (R)
  58. "The Trumpeter of Krakow" by Eric P. Kelly - 1929*
  59. "It's Like This, Cat" by Emily Cheney Neville - 1964 (E)
  60. "Ginger Pye" by Eleanor Estes - 1952*
  61. "A Visit to William Blakes's Inn: Poems for Innocent and Experienced Travelers" by Nancy Willard - 1982 (E)
  62. "Shen of the Sea" by Arthur Bowie Chrisman - 1926 (E)
  63. "The White Stag" by Kate Seredy - 1938
  64. "Tales From Silver Lands" by Charles Finger - 1925 (E)
  65. "...And Now Miguel" by Joseph Krumgold - 1954 (E)
  66. "Thimble Summer" by Elizabeth Enright - 1939
  67. "Rabbit Hill" by Robert Lawson - 1945 (E)
  68. "Julie of the Wolves" by Jean Craighead George -1973 (R)
  69. "Island of the Blue Dolphins" by Scott O'Dell - 1961*
  70. "Hitty, Her First Hundred Years" by Rachel Field - 1930 (R)
  71. "Out of the Dust" by Karen Hesse - 1998 (E)
  72. "The Cat Who Went To Heaven" by Elizabeth Coatsworth - 1931 (E)
  73. "Dead End in Norvelt" by Jack Gantos - 2012 (E)
  74. "Criss Cross" by Lynn Rae Perkins - 2006 (R)
  75. "The Higher Power of Lucky" by Susan Patron - 2007 (E)
  76. "King of the Wind" by Marguerite Henry - 1949 (R)
  77. "Miss Hickory" by Carolyn Sherwin Bailey - 1947 (E)
  78. "A Gathering of Days: A New England Girl's Journal" by Joan Blos - 1979 (R)
  79. "Lincoln: A Photobiography" by Russell Freedman - 1988 (R)
  80. "Roller Skates" by Ruth Sawyer - 1937 (R)
  81. "Miracles on Maple Hill" by Virginia Sorenson - 1957 (R)
  82. "Summer of the Swans" by Betsy Byars - 1971 (R)
  83. "M.C. Higgins, the Great" by Virginia Hamilton - 1975 (R)
  84. "Strawberry Girl" by Lois Lenski - 1946 (R)
  85. "Amos Fortune, Free Man" by Elizabeth Yates - 1951
  86. "Sounder" by William H. Armstrong - 1970 (R)
  87. "Invincible Louisa: The Story of the Author of Little Women" by Cornelia Meigs - 1934 (R)
  88. "The Slave Dancer" by Paula Fox - 1974*
  89. "The Dark Frigate" by Charles Hawes - 1924 (R)
  90. "The Matchlock Gun" by Walter D Edmonds - 1942
  91. "Smoky the Cowhorse" by Will James - 1927 (E)
  92. "The Story of Mankind" by Hendrik Willem van Loon - 1922 (E)


"Pine Mouth"

Well, a lot has happened in the last month, and obviously we're not posting most of it here, specifically because it is mostly the highest form of simply enjoying being with our family and friends here in Tennessee, and we're too busy enjoying it to post about it.

And we're really OK with that.

But blogging continues to be a way to denote some of the odd little details of life that might otherwise be forgotten, and so we share the random:


Monday, we traveled down to Chattanooga to see Jena and Brian, and our two nieces.  On arriving there, we got to spend an awesome afternoon with our friends the Chaffins, who know how to put together a mean lunch and otherwise make you feel totally at home.  Then we descended the mountain on which they live and headed over to Jena's.

Wednesday morning:  Why does my coffee taste so bad?  Why isn't this going away with brushing my teeth?  Why does everything taste terrible today?

Well, it turns out that I have "Pine Mouth", a recently described (by the FDA) syndrome where you eat pine nuts, and an as-yet-unidentified something makes everything have a bitter and metallic taste. Thankfully, it goes away spontaneously after 4 days to 4 weeks with no longterm effects.

Actually, our friend Chris, while serving us the absolutely awesome pine-nut-containing orzo on Monday, mentioned to Rachel that she had had this problem.  I missed that conversation, but was thankful that it existed, so that Rachel could correctly diagnose me 2 days later.

No big deal, but it is messing with my US weight gain plan.  Each time someone mentions a yummy meal of the future, my first thought is "man, I hope I'm tasting things normally by that time."


Safari 2015

As a little family vacation, transitioning from Burundi back to America (for 9 months), we stopped by Kenya and took the kids on a safari.  The last time that Maggie went to Maasai Mara, she was 1, and so we were excited to let them experience this, and maybe, just maybe, Maggie and Ben will remember this trip into adulthood.

We have been on safari multiple times (click here for old pictures), and each time is a little different, with unique things you didn't expect.  So, here is a rundown of what made this safari unique, i.e. what it will be remembered for.

Hyenas.  We saw more hyenas on this trip that all prior trips combined.  It was sort of like when they took over in the The Lion King, but the Pridelands did not look to be suffering otherwise.

Of course everyone wants to see carnage on safaris ("I want to see a cheetah eating a zebra"), but as Carlan pointed out, the more unnatural the carnage is, the better ("I want to see a zebra eating a cheetah!"), even to the point of the ridiculous ("I want to see a meerkat eating a zebra, who is eating a cheetah!").  Driving into camp this time, we were greeted by the closest thing we have yet encountered:  a hyena eating a hyena.

We stayed at a new place (for us) called Salt Springs, which was hard to get to, but is Maasai owned and run (unique among the lodges there).  It was more budget, but still very nice, and great service.  They had a dining area that overlooked a big bend in the river, and you can just sit and watch for animals in the distance.

This was Toby's first safari, and he loved it.  The monkeys were his favorites, and just riding in the bumpy car was his most favorite.

Mongooses and Rock Hyraxes (or Dassies).  I think we had seen about 1 of each of these on prior trips.  This time, they were out in droves and we saw more than 50 of each.  Here is a picture of the little Rock Hyraxes up in the cleft.  They are actually the closest cousin of the elephant, if you can believe it, and could rest on your palm.

We saw several hippos grazing out of the water, which is cool, since normally they are just ears and eyes poking out of the water.  Possibly because it was the rainy season...

The first of our two companions: Abraham Paternoster, our friend who spent most of his gap year (before college) with us out at Kibuye.

And the second: Molly Shankles, who is starting med school in the fall and spent the last 2 months with us at Kibuye.  They were both a huge blessing to us.

Birds.  Maybe we're just more interested in birds as time goes along, but we saw tons of great birds on this trip.  Here is one of about six lilac-breasted rollers we saw, but we also saw 5 types of storks, hamerkops with their ridiculous 6-ft wide nest, cranes and many others.

Probably the single coolest moment was this pride of lions eating a cape buffalo.  As Abraham pointed out, it was one of the Big Five, eating another of the Big Five, so there you go.  In fact, we saw probably about 20 lions, which is compared to less than five on any other safari we have been on.  No leopards.  They remain imaginary in our book.  And cheetahs are getting more dubious as time goes on as well.

There is nothing like an elephant (or better yet, a family of elephants) slowly making their stately way across the savannah.  We followed a great group of five for a while, and they can within about 20 feet of our vehicle.

Safari njema!
Urugendo rwiza!
Bon voyage!
It was a good journey.


Remembering Grandma Selle

My grandma, Alvera Selle, passed away yesterday at an assisted living home in Bay City.  She was in her 90s and apparently her health had been failing for some time, so I’m so thankful she had a peaceful transition into her heavenly home.  Times like now are the hardest to be away.  I sit at my desk in Burundi, the rain falling outside, my cell phone out of reception, the power and internet out for the day, and wish I could somehow connect to my family in this time.  So instead, I sit here and remember all the things I can about Grandma, and write down some sort of small tribute for the role she played in my life.

Grandma spent her whole life in Bay City, MI.  I wonder if she ever in her wildest dreams imagined that one day her granddaughter would live and work at a hospital in Burundi.  I remember telling her about one trip of mine in 2007.  My husband Eric and I were going to work in Bangladesh for a month.  She wrote and told me she couldn’t find Bangladesh in the encyclopedia, so had no idea where we were.  Come to find out it was an encyclopedia from the 1950s, when Bangladesh was referred to as East Pakistan.  I remember how every time I would talk to Grandma about our plans to go and work in Africa she would pull out an article clipping about a woman working in orphanages in Haiti, and tell me how she was making quilts for the orphans.  Now I think back, and I think that was her way of trying to connect with me, doing a very strange and foreign thing to her.

Meeting Maggie for the first time
My memories of Grandma are all connected to the house on Kasemeyer where she lived for 60 years with Grandpa.  A basement full of rag rugs and quilt scraps, Hallmark napkins for every occasion and rows upon rows of canned peaches, pickles, chili sauce.  Playing cards at the dining room table, mostly euchre but also pinochle and solitaire.  As a kid, arranging her brightly colored lipsticks on her dresser, with a bookmark I cross-stitched for her hanging on the mirror.  The picture of her looking so un-Grandma like at her wedding in the 1940s.  Climbing the crabapple tree in the front yard, bird feeders in the back complete with thieving squirrels, a huge garden.  Food, always so much food...angel food cakes, stollen, church windows and decorated cut out cookies at Christmas, and pecan rolls.  Oh, the pecan rolls and crescent rolls, essential for every family gathering.  Little cacti growing in the bay window, beautiful flowers growing outside.  Watching Grandma pull out shoeboxes of old Christmas cards, newspaper clippings, letters I had written her at age 6.  All evidence about how much she cared, how much the small things meant, how much she followed her friends’ and families’ lives.  

More memories...Grandma perming my hair at the kitchen table, going with her to bring fresh plants and water the flowers at Daddy’s gravesite.  All the pictures we have of Grandma and Grandpa coming to Minnesota, and later Phoenix, to attend Grandparents’ Day at school.  Christmas gifts of Birthday Bear, a Care Bear suitcase, Christmas ornaments, Precious Moments.  A yellow daisy quilt, then a blue jean quilt, and now a beautiful blue quilt on my bed that she made for my wedding.  Attending church at Zion Lutheran where everyone knew the Selles, a 50th anniversary party complete with (indoor) photo shoot and my brother and I singing in church.  I remember flying out from California one year, getting picked up by Eric in Chicago, and surprising her for Thanksgiving.  She had no idea what to say.  I remember bringing Maggie to visit Grandma for the first time, meeting her first great-grandchild...she was the first of her seven siblings to have a great-grandchild.  Grandpa died just weeks before I left for Kenya, and I was so thankful to be able to come to Bay City for the funeral.  It was an expected death, but still hard, when you lose the man you’ve been married to for 60 years.  The one time I saw Grandma smile that week was when she was sitting in her recliner after the funeral, holding Maggie on her lap.

Meeting Ben for the first time
Eric told me several months ago that if you’re never expecting something, it will be unexpected when it comes.  Obvious, perhaps, but I guess in some ways I just assumed Grandma would be around forever, or at least another 10 years or so.  I didn’t think that when we left in 2012 for France it was a real goodbye.  Somehow I just kept thinking that we would be back visiting her on Kasemeyer street in just a few more years.  I’m glad she got to meet at least two of her great-grandchildren (most people still haven’t met Toby, so that one’s not surprising).  I’m glad she got to see the family ornament collection, from Bronners of course, grow from 5 names to 15 over these past 40 years.  She shared more and more stories of her life with me as I grew older, and I know in many ways her life didn’t turn out the way she hoped it would, or at least the way she planned it would when she was younger.  But I hope that in the end, as she looked back, she was able to see all the joys and successes, all of the ministries and hospitalities, all of the friends, and the family, and the love.  And I hope that on Monday afternoon, she was welcomed home by her husband, her son, her parents, and the whole cloud of witnesses that has gone before.


Firebomb Macaroni the Rhinoceros Beetle

Following up on the Big Five post, I have actually seen a "Little Five" list, where each of the traditional Big Five is replaced by an insect that contains it's name (ex. I believe "ant lion" replaces Lion).  One of the replacements showed up on our back porch this morning:  The Rhinoceros Beetle.

These little guys are not too commonly seen, and this is the first I've seen in Burundi.  I have no idea how he wandered on to our porch.  They have an impressive horn, but are harmless dirt diggers, and Maggie plucked up the courage to hold him.

The kids loved seeing him, and decided to name him.  Ben wanted to name him Fire.  Maggie wanted Bomb.  I suggested Firebomb.  And then Maggie suggested the last name Macaroni.

So we present to you Firebomb Macaroni the Rhinoceros Beetle.


Revising Africa's Big Five

Here's a post that badly needs a bunch of images, but our limited bandwidth is prohibitive.  Maybe I'll add some later, when I'm somewhere else.

We are looking at traveling to Kenya in a few months, and planning on taking the kids on a safari, which should be great, especially as they will be quite a bit older than last time, and more able to enjoy it.

If you have ever looked into safaris, then you are probably familiar with "The Big Five".  Everyone wants to see "The Big Five".  Tourist trinkets are often emblazoned with "The Big Five".  Different parks are valued on whether or not they can boast all of "The Big Five".

What is the Big Five?  It is lions, leopards, rhinos, elephants, and cape buffalo.  Why those?  As we understand it, it is a historical list from the days of big game hunters, because these five were the hardest to bring down on a hunt.

And we have adopted this list for game viewing.  The problem is that we are not trying to kill these animals.  We are instead deriving pleasure from watching them, which everyone should agree is quite another thing.  Therefore, we would like to propose a new list.

Elephants, lions, and rhinos are cool.  No doubt.  Even when not killing them.  The leopard however is elusive.  So elusive that we have decided that it is imaginary.  Even if it is not, so much disappointment is born by not seeing a leopard that it seems a bad fit for this list.

So the leopard is out.

Cape buffalos are ugly.  And mean.  And travel in herds.  So you can't get close enough to enjoy their ugliness, but they are easy to find.

So the cape buffalo is out.

Replacements?  We would like to submit the hippo and the giraffe.  Both are incredibly iconic.  Both are items of the earliest childhood imaginations, and seeing them in person does not disappoint.  And they are big.  So our revised list goes like this:

  1. Lion
  2. Elephant
  3. Rhino
  4. Hippo 
  5. Giraffe
You will not be disappointed.  At the same time, we would like to submit a couple other lists, because completing lists adds a certain satisfaction to almost any activity.

The Big Five Birds:  Africa's birds are truly awesome, and though you might not ponder it ahead of time, you should anticipate a good time seeing them.  The list:
  1. Ostrich
  2. Secretary Bird (huge 4 feet tall cockatoo-looking white bird)
  3. Grey-Crowned Crane (stately and 5 feet tall)
  4. Flamingo
  5. Stork (you can choose which one.  The Marabou stork is very iconic and stately, but kind of in an ugly way.  The Yellow-Billed Stork is a favorite of ours.)
And last, The Cute Five:
  1. Dik-Dik: these tiny antelope are about knee-high and always found in pairs
  2. Rock Hyrax: this little gopher-looking guy is the closest relative of the elephant
  3. Bushbaby: nocturnal tiny primate with giant eyes
  4. Meerkat: because of the Lion King, which really is an inescapable allusion for all safaris
  5. Warthog: it's cuteness is controversial (as in, Rachel disagrees), but when you see a little line of them running with their tales straight up, I think you'll agree.  And again, the Lion King.
So, forget the anxiety of leopard hunting and the disappointment of the Cape Buffalo and settle in for a safari list that truly satisfies.


Merry Christmas 2014

Can't believe the Christmas season is almost over again.  I wanted to share a few glimpses of our Burundi Christmas with you!  It was really a lovely month and we enjoyed the lack of commercialism, if not the lack of available stores to pick up last minute gifts in. :)

1.  The Christmas Tree.  I bought it at a garage sale in 2012 and this year we were able to assemble all 9 feet with our vaulted ceilings!  It was pre-lit but all the lights were burned out, so we restrung it. The kids really loved helping decorate the tree this year.  We'll collected a huge collection of ornaments from all over the world, and all through the last 35 yrs of our lives (ok, 35 for me and less for everyone else).

2.  Christmas cookies.  Cut out sugar cookies, molasses cookies, Russian teacakes, and thumbprints.  Only thing missing were PB kisses.  Thanks to Eric's sisters, we had lots of cookie cutters and sprinkles for my little helpers to assist with.  

3.  Wrapping paper.  I forgot to put any on the container, so I wasn't quite sure what to do.  Not for nothing am I the child of a teacher, though.  I found some brown paper that had been used to stuff a package, and we make some star shaped potato stamps.  Potato stamps, above mentioned cookie cutters, and tempera paint = afternoon activity PLUS gorgeous wrapping paper. :)

4.  One week before Christmas, we picked up a special suitcase in Buja!  Our moms had put together 50 lbs of gifts and treats to make our Christmas more special.  It arrived just in time with a group of visitors.  On top was a handmade tree from Shar the quilter.  There are little ornaments that the kids can pin on every day.  Hanging up on an extra curtain rod in the kids' room.

5.  Traditional Christmas Nutcracker puzzle.  I think Eric has put this puzzle together over 50 times in his life.  He can do it in about 30 min or so, all 500 pieces.  The kids actually really enjoy puzzles too, and with some help of putting like-pieces close together, they could start to enjoy a long standing McLaughlin tradition.

6.  The first gift of Christmas: a package Aunt Mariah sent in October.  We opened it Christmas Eve morning and enjoyed new shirts and puzzles for everyone!

7.  Christmas Eve dinner.  This followed the Christmas Eve service at our house but unfortunately Toby was throwing up the whole time so we didn't have time for picture taking.  Dinner at the McLaughlin household has always been snacks on Christmas Eve.  Here in Africa (also in Kenya) we save foods all year to bring out for the special snack meal.  Triscuits, summer sausage, cheese, hummus, juice and Sprite...Yum!

8.  Christmas Eve gifts.  We all got to open one gift before bedtime.  Maggie opened a Lego friends set and was totally excited....
... I thought I picked a Lego set for Ben to open as well but whoops!  It was actually a box of cereal.  He was no less excited to find the Lucky Charms. :)

9.  Christmas morning Lego assembly.  A classic from my own childhood.  With no adult help, Maggie assembled all 369 pieces.  And then did Ben's set for him too.

10.  Later on...We opened a few gifts on Christmas but then saved several to open one day at a time, which lasted us until New Year's Day.  It was great to slow the pace and the kids enjoyed a special gift each morning instead of all at once.  Once all the cereal had been opened we had a veritable American breakfast feast!

11.  And finally, Happy 9th Anniversary to my best friend and husband.  Carlan had the kids over for dinner so Eric and I could enjoy a dinner of Thai food to ourselves.

Merry Christmas and Happy 2015 to all!