Archive for February, 2012

Puzzle Master

Tuesday, February 21st, 2012

Lately Mikayla has really been into puzzles.  She got two for Christmas.  A Winnie the Pooh puzzle from her Mimi and Poppy and a Fox in Socks puzzle form her Aunt Christa (and family), Uncle Christopher and Aunt Sarah.  She loves them both and can now successfully put them together without any help.  Look at her go!

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She was really studying it for correct pieces at this point.

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So proud of herself!

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Not even a power outage can stop this puzzle crazy girl!

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Posted in Parenting |

This Week’s Happenings 2/13-2/21

Tuesday, February 21st, 2012

I am little behind on blogging this week, but better late than never…right?  We had a busy last week and it is shaping up to be a busy week this week. 

On Saturday of last week (2/11) we lost power during a pretty intense thunder storm.  Power did not return that evening, or the next day and not until late on Monday.  We actually ended up going for over 50 hours without electricity.  Needless to say we didn’t have much that survived the fridge or freezer so we had two big braais and ate meat for every meal (even breakfast).  Things could have been worse, but it is still never fun to go that long without power.

Ben spent most of last weekend and week writing abstracts, workshop proposals and scholarship applications for an AIDS conference in July.  Everything was due on the fifteenth and being out of power for so long made things a little crazy.  He was up until midnight most nights; needless to say he was exhausted by the end of the week and ready for a relaxing weekend (more on that later).

Last week we celebrated Valentine’s Day by making heart shaped sugar cookies for daddy and some of the staff.  We ran into some delays with our power outages, but we made do!  She loved rolling out the dough and using her heart cookie cutter.  She still needs practice on how to best utilize the dough so you don’t roll it out fifty times, but that will come!

Today is Sister Diane’s birthday so on Friday night we cooked a big meal in her honor.  I made focaccia bread, salad, corn on the cob and chocolate muffins.  Ben contributed some grilled shrimp and beer can chicken.  And Joe made some roasted red peppers (who knew they were that easy to make?), pickled onions, and a delicious punch drink (he is quite the cocktail master).  We stuffed ourselves silly and enjoyed each other’s company after a busy and hectic week.

We then spent this past weekend at our friends Peter, Callista and Aviva’s house.  They treated us to the usual relaxing atmosphere and fellowship and even took us along to some friends houses.  We went to a braai on Saturday afternoon to celebrate a birthday and then that evening we went to Eric and Nicole’s house for some amazing Thai food where we once again stuffed ourselves silly.  Eric made some Tom Yum soup that was out of this world along with several other thai dishes!  We enjoyed the relaxing time and were sad to see the weekend pass by so quickly.

On Sunday we met up with some of the other Cabrini staff members in Matsapha for a four day strategic planning session.  Ben will be in meetings until Thursday evening and Mikayla and I are enjoying some AC!  We went to a small game park today (Mililwane) and hope to do some swimming (although the pools don’t look too promising).  We do have decent Internet here if anyone wants to try to Skype with us.  Just let us know.  Here are a few pictures from the game park.

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I love this picture for some reason.  These three guys were just all nuzzled up next to each other. 

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On Friday we leave for St. Lucia, South Africa to celebrate my birthday.  Side note – this is not the St. Lucia most people in the states know of, so look it up if you are confused.  This area is known for their hippo, crocodile and bird populations.  They have some beach areas, although I am not sure they are like the traditional beach you think of.  If nothing else we are going to enjoy some family time before Ben leaves the next week for three weeks in the States.  If nothing else, we can sleep in and play a little Settler’s of Catan!

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Mikayla enjoying her painting activity sent by Susan at Cabrini College.  Thanks Susan – she completed the whole box in one sitting!

Posted in Random |

Toddler School–Letter H

Tuesday, February 21st, 2012

In honor of Valentine’s day we studied the letter H for the past two weeks.  We did lots of heart activities and Mikayla can now proudly write the letter H!  She draws it everywhere – in coloring books, in the dirt, in the air, on her chalkboard…everything includes an H.  Too bad it isn’t in her name because she can’t write any of those letters yet!  We are taking a week or two break from school because we are traveling with Ben to meetings and then hanging with him before he leaves on March 5 to head to the states.  We will pick back up with a Dr. Seuss theme for a couple of weeks when we return to Toddler School.  If anyone has fun ideas, we would love to hear them!  Here are some of our H activities.

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H is for hearts – used heart shape stickers to stick all over the H.

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She found the matching letter stamp and stamped the correct letter.  Turns out this kid LOVES stamps!  She wanted to use them everyday.

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Heart color sorting.  We also used these hearts and sorted big and small and rolled the dice to count out that many hearts.

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Torn paper name.  She had a blast gluing the small pieces of paper onto her letters.  She even did a great job of tracing the written letter with the glue.

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H is for hands.  We also made a special craft with some of her hands to send to some family members in the states (didn’t take a picture though because I didn’t want to ruin the surprise).

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Here are some more heart activities from top to bottom – Heart man, heart collage with leftover hearts from other activities, and heart name.

Our food activity for the week was making heart shaped cookies to pass out to staff members on Valentine’s day.  As usual, she had a blast rolling out the dough and cutting out the cookies!

Posted in Parenting |

A Reading Machine

Tuesday, February 14th, 2012

I have always enjoyed reading, but have not found much time for it the last couple of years for whatever reason. Now that my full time job is caring for Mikayla, I have found much more time for reading. That and we live where there is not much entertainment but each other and the occasional television show. Plus power outages make reading a necessity at night!  A couple of weeks ago Ben sat down and wrote out a list of books he has read since arriving in Swaziland. After reading through his, I decided it would be fun to jot down all of the books I have read thus far. Here are the ones I can remember so far.

Little Women – An oldie, but a goodie.  I cry every time I read this book.

Let Me Call You Sweetheart – A Mary Higgins Clark novel.  She used to be a favorite author of mine, but I am not sure if she still is.  I would have to read a few more books to decide.

The Harry Potter series (7 books) – I refused to read this series for so long, but after several pushes from close friends I decided to give it a go.  I am so glad I did.  I actually read the series in like two weeks, it was that good!

The Hunger Games Series (3 books) – I also loved this series!  The third book wasn’t great, but the first two were awesome. 

Kitchen Confidential – There were several books in the closet we now use as our pantry when we arrived and this was one of them.  It was okay, but got a bit repetitive.  Not a favorite of mine.

Poisonwood Bible – Another book that has been on my radar for awhile now, but I had never gotten around to reading.  It was a very well written book and I really enjoyed it.

Animal Farm – Ben read this one first and suggested I read it as well.  It was a decent read, but not really my style of book.

The Complete Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (4 books) – This was another free Kindle download and included four books (Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Tom Sawyer Abroad, Tom Sawyer Detective).  I loved the first two, but the last two were a bit of a stretch.

One September Morning – Easy read, but not that enjoyable.

Manny Williams Trilogy (3 books) – This was a murder mystery trilogy by Rick Murcer.  I really enjoyed this one and can’t wait to read more of his books.  The three books in the series were called Caribbean Moon, Deceitful Moon and Emerald Moon.

Dixie Divas – I read this one early on and can’t remember what it was about…must not have been that good!

Life From Scratch – Another easy read, but not that incredible.

Late Rain – Free kindle download that was a super quick read.

The Abbey – A well written murder mystery book.

Crossing the Bridge – Another one I read early on that I don’t remember very well.

Megan’s Way – A story about a mother who is dying of cancer but doesn’t know how to tell her daughter and friends.  This one really hit home with me because I read it right after I found out my uncle’s cancer had come back.

Stealing Faces – This one is about a guy who literally steals faces off of his victims.  Appetizing right?  It was actually a decent read though.

The Help – I loved this one.  I think it was one of the first I read when we got here, but it was really good.  I would eventually like to see the movie.

Kisses from Katie – This is a book about a girl from Tennessee who lives in Uganda.  She has "adopted" 13 or so kids from there and it talks about her story.  I have read her blog for awhile, so the story wasn’t that new to me.

Steig Larson series (3 books) – For those of you who aren’t familiar with this series the three books are called The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest.  The first book was really slow to get into, but once it got going was excellent.  The second book was great, my favorite in the whole series.  However, I could have done without the last one.  Way too many characters and plot lines were introduced for my liking.  All in all though, it was a good series and well worth checking out.

A lot of these books were free Kindle books I downloaded. I am a big fan of murder mystery books so that is what a lot of them ended up being. I have enjoyed the few series I read.   I have also read a lot of books from our closet here, but unfortunately after reading them we got rid of them so I am not sure what they were called. I know several of them were James Patterson books and some were just random books.  So all in all I have read about forty books in the last six months.  Crazy huh?  I am currently in between books and leave for a long weekend getaway in a couple of weeks if anyone has any good suggestions.

Posted in Life |

Cooking Out of Necessity!

Saturday, February 11th, 2012

Not much has happened in the past week, so I thought I would write a different kind of post.  If you know me at all, you know I love to cook especially bake.  Now that I am home with Mikayla full time I find that I have much more time to experiment and try new recipes in the kitchen.  We can get almost any ingredient that we need at the grocery store, but we end up having to make a lot of familiar items and pre-prepared items from scratch.  And those ingredients we can’t find, we have substituted – Ben found a fabulous ingredient substitution list online that we use often.  Here is a short run down of some of the items that we are used to buying already prepared from the store, that we have to make from scratch here in Swaziland.

Ranch dip – I love me some Hidden Valley Ranch dip mix.  Tasty and simple.  The other day we found some sour cream at the grocery so I gave my own ranch dip a try.  I combined a couple of recipes I found and came up with a pretty fantastic dip.  Comparable, if not better than Hidden Valley!  I used salt, black pepper, parsley, thyme, garlic powder, and onion powder and mixed them in with the sour cream.  I didn’t take exact measurements so the next time might not be as good, but Mikayla ate it up with some carrot sticks.

Dressing – While you can buy dressing here, we have opted to make our own.  Mostly we make a vinaigrette from olive oil and balsamic vinegar mixed with some herbs and spices.  I would like to try making ranch dressing if I ever find a good recipe.

Whipped cream – Last weekend I made crepes to go along with my mango pepper marmalade.  We had some heavy cream in the fridge so we thought we would try to make some whipped cream.  The first time was a complete failure.  We whipped it for too long and ended up with sweet butter.  Our second go round was much more successful and better than anything you can buy that is already made.

Ice cream – In Swaziland you  can’t find traditional ice cream, only "frozen dairy product".  It is a frozen treat, but far from ice cream we are used to.  Plus with the closest grocery almost an hour away, it would melt (unless we took a cooler with us) before we got home.  Ben’s parents got us a battery operated ice cream maker for Christmas and we are loving it!  The first time we made it, we didn’t have the correct ingredients, but figured we could substitute some stuff.  Boy were we wrong.  It tasted more like snow cream than ice cream –not bad, but not what we were expecting!  The second attempt we found the correct ingredients and we made a vanilla and a mango ice cream.  It turned out perfect, creamy and delicious!  So glad we have the ice cream maker.

Pancake mix – In the states I always relied on Bisquick for my pancake making.  Just add an egg and some milk and you are good to go.  However, Bisquick is non-existent here in Swaziland, so we had to start from scratch.  After a couple of tweaks, we have found a recipe we love and it is easily adaptable.  We can make a plain pancake or switch it up and make some flavored ones.  We have made some pumpkin pancakes using our butternut squash puree and some spices (cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg), and apple pancakes (just add in a little homemade applesauce and chopped apples) just to name a couple.

Bagels – This has been one of my favorite discoveries.  So easy and absolutely delicious.  Also very easy to adapt and change the flavor based on what you are craving.  So far we have made five different batches and plan on making more! 

Angel food cake – Sister Barbara approached me a couple of weeks ago and asked if I had ever made an angel food cake before.  My answer was no, but that I would be willing to try.  I am so glad I did, because it was tasty (and I don’t even like angel food cake) and probably a lot healthier than the store bought version.  I also made two tasty glazes to go along with it – chocolate and vanilla.

Cakes – Pretty much any cake you would find in a box, you have to make from scratch here.  We did find Funfetti cake mix in South Africa but it was super expensive.  I have made several cakes from scratch since arriving and all have been better than any store bought version.  In addition to angel food cake, I have made chocolate cake, carrot cake, apple cake and yellow cake.

Bread products – So far we have only been able to find loaf bread, which means all other bread products have to be prepared from scratch.  We have enjoyed making the following "breads" since our arrival six months ago: breadsticks, focaccia, pizza crust and dinner rolls.

Tortillas – One week we discovered black beans and tortilla chips at the grocery so we decided to have a Mexican meal.  We needed some tortilla shells to go with it so we made some from scratch.  Seriously, they were so easy!  We have made both corn and flour tortillas on several occasions.

Hummus – I posted about our hummus experience a few weeks back, but worth mentioning again.  Super easy to make and modify to your flavor profile.  It will be even easier if we ever get a food processor!  A great accessory to our flour tortillas too!

Guacamole – In the states we typically made our own guacamole, but on a couple of occasions we would buy the version that was already made.  Here on the other hand, you don’t have a choice…you have to make it on your own if you want it at all!

Fudge pops – An easy and tasty frozen treat.  Mikayla in particular is a fan of these!

Apple sauce – Made Grandma Clark style by simmering apples and a little cinnamon!  We almost always have some on hand in the fridge.

Black beans – I love black beans, but am ashamed to say that until I arrived in Africa I had only ever made the "canned" version.  Homemade are SO much better! And it makes a ton so you can have other things besides just black beans and rice.  Some things that we have tried are black beans and scrambled eggs, a black bean and sausage mixture, Azteca Black beans (black beans mixed with couscous, corn, jalapeno, cilantro, onions and some spices), and black bean burgers.

Brownies – I love a good brownie and have tried a couple recipes.  So far I haven’t found a go to brownie recipe.  Any suggestions?

Mac and cheese – Of course we don’t have access to the famous Velveeta cheese that I love, so we have to make our own Mac and cheese from scratch.  The other day I made a tasty mac and cheese casserole using cheddar and parmesan cheeses. 

Pumpkin pie – At Thanksgiving we wanted pumpkin pie so we made one from scratch.  We used pureed butternut squash for the pumpkin and made the crust ourselves.  It was delicious and tasted just like the real thing!

Cinnamon rolls – I almost didn’t mention these because we made them from scratch in the states, but thought they were worth mentioning.  Well worth the time commitment to make.

Spaghetti sauce – In KY we would often make our own sauce in the summer months, but in the winter it was Prego or some other variety of jarred sauce that found its way to our tables.  Now, if we want spaghetti we find ourselves making it from scratch.  Ben is an expert at making spaghetti sauce.

Alfredo sauce – Tried this out for the first time the other day.  With a few more tries and a little tweaking I think we will have a delicious sauce.  A little heavy cream, parmesan cheese, butter and spices you have a delicious and quick alfredo sauce.

BBQ sauce – We have made several variations on a BBQ sauce in the last few months.  They have all been a little on the liquid side, but still yummy when cooked with some chicken. 

Marinades – Pretty much any marinade you would use for grilled meats we have made.  It has been fun to experiment with different flavors and see how they turn out.  Ben is the expert marinade maker in our house.

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Posted in Cooking |

Toddler School–Letter P

Sunday, February 5th, 2012

We have spent the last two weeks doing activities about the Letter P.  Mostly penguin and polar bear stuff.  Unfortunately I did not snap very many pictures, but here is what I got. 

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We made a letter P penguin and then of course she had to take the scraps and make her own version of a penguin!

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I drew out a penguin and then had her choose a magnetic number and feed him that many fish.  We also played this with a polar bear that I drew out.

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We made a paper plate penguin.

We also read Polar Bear, Polar Bear several times and then I made out the animal cards for her to retell with.  We spent a lot of time playing games from our Letter W unit too, so not much new this week.  I haven’t decided yet what letter we will move onto next week.  I am thinking probably Letter H for hearts since Valentine’s Day is coming up!  I keep you posted.

Posted in Parenting |

This Week’s Happenings 1/30-2/5

Sunday, February 5th, 2012

Is it really already February?  Time seems to be flying by.  We have been in Swaziland now for over six months and seem to be in a pretty good routine and feel 100% confident about our decision to move here.

And six months in, Ben is already prepping for his first trip back to the United States.  It will be mostly business, but he will get to see some family in Chicago so he is excited about that.  He will be gone March 5-24.  If you want more details on his trip just let us know.  We will miss him for sure, but will keep ourselves busy while he is away!

The puppies are growing each day and every once in awhile we will find them sneaking into our house to take a break from the heat.  Here is a shot from them the other day.

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Mikayla got a couple of Signing Time DVD’s from her grandparents for Christmas and has really been loving them lately.  She is getting really good at signing along and really focuses on getting her hands in the right positioning to make the signs.  The other day I was watching her while she was watching a Signing Time and she was signing right along to the video and songs and was even signing words that hadn’t been taught, just shown.  So precious!

On Saturday night Joe (the new volunteer) came over and cooked a fabulous dinner for us.  He made braised rabbit, mashed potatoes and gravy.  We paired it with focaccia bread I had made Friday and some butternut squash chocolate chip cookies.  The rabbit actually tasted a lot like chicken and Mikayla ate it up.  Delicious!

On Sunday we had folks over for lunch to complete our mango chili pepper challenge.  I made crepes with a mango pepper marmalade and homemade whipped cream (super easy by the way).  Ben made grilled chicken breast strips marinated with a ginger infused mango heat glaze.  And Joe made a mango/pepper cocktail with Rum.  The sisters contributed a chili dish.  It was a tasty meal and we had a lot of fun experimenting with different flavors.  I love that I have more time to do stuff like that now!

Tonight, as most of you in the states know, is the Super Bowl.  Our satellite is actually broadcasting it live, so we decided to watch it.  The only downside is that live means 1:00am.  I guess we will just be tired tomorrow.  I told the guys I would be willing to watch it if we had appetizers, so appetizers it is at 1:00am!  I will contributing a homemade ranch dip with veggies and potato skins.  Can’t wait!

On a downside, my driver’s license is set to expire at the end of the month.  We tried to get this taken care of before we left but the courthouse wouldn’t let us renew it because it was too far out and hadn’t expired yet.  There is no way to renew overseas, so I have to get a Swazi driver’s license.  Unless we can figure something else out I will have to go through the whole shebang…written test and driving test.  Should be fun!  To say the least I am not looking forward to it at all.

That’s about it in news from the Kickert’s for this week.  Hope everyone had a good week.

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Mikayla enjoying some toasted pumpkin seeds!