Living, Learning & Loving La Vida Nueva

Friday, December 5, 2014

Gingerbread Cookies


As I sip my rooibos chai tea and munch on a gingerbread cookie, I’ll just try to ignore the 75* outside, sun flowers blooming and peaches ripening on my fruit trees.  It is December, after all, and the season for things that taste and smell of cinnamon and cloves.  Right now there is cinnamon banana carrot bread baking in the oven and the Christmas tree is lit.  It's as close to cozy as it can get.    


Yesterday while it drizzled outside, Kyle and I baked up some absolutely delicious gingerbread cookies.  I can’t remember why I decided to make them; I’ve never made gingerbread cookies before.  And I don’t even have a gingerbread man cookie cutter.  But the idea popped in my head and wouldn’t leave.  So, I turned to my trusty friend, Google, and came up with this super easy, fool proof, can’t go wrong recipe.  The entire time we were busy whipping these up, Kyle kept saying, “I love baking!”  The boy was made to play with me in the kitchen.  He loves to snack, he loves to get dirty and he loves cookies.  We do all three.



We pulled up a chair and got to work.  The only thing I did slightly differently was use blackstrap molasses.  I should’ve known to cut it back a bit.  After it was all mixed up, I had a taste and it was sure strong.  I stirred in some extra sugar, maybe another 1/4 cup, and it helped.  Once they were baked and iced, the flavor was perfect!  They aren’t awfully sweet, but the royal icing does take the edge off the depth of molasses and ginger.




Since it is spring going into summer (as much as I hate to admit it), my kitchen is warm during the day.  So I did feel that the dough was a bit soft for rolling and cutting.  I would pop it in the fridge for half an hour to help with that.  But, for this go around, we just rolled with lots of flour and on wax paper.  I also wished I had sprayed my wax paper with a little non-stick spray because they stuck ever so slightly during baking.  Maybe my dough was a tad bit too thin.  What do I know about gingerbread?  Nothing.  Except that it tastes good.  And this stuff tasted really good.  That's all I care to know.

After they were iced and ready for consumption, I took the container outside so I could offer one to the boys working in my garden. Our neighbors use the yard for planting and send their boys up here for weeding and watering.  It's not uncommon for me to test a recipe on those guys.  They're quite adventurous kids.  The first one, Khotso, tried to take the whole box out of my hand.  I've lived long enough to know two teenage boys and a box of cookies would mean I'd be back in the kitchen baking more real soon.  The other boy, Tsolo, who speaks English better, laughed at him and gave him such a hard time for trying to grab the whole container.  Then two flirty girls walked in the yard, obviously trying to interact with the boys and I was left to offer them a cookie, too.  Well, there went half my cookies.... Oh well, we didn't need two dozen anyway.

Next up, my absolute favorite Christmas cookies.  I'm already drooling....


'Tis the season for baking!


~Abby

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Thanksgiving

For our Thanksgiving on Saturday we invited our Basotho family over for a traditional American dinner.  We often have them over for some American cuisine.  They've yet to try something they didn't scarf.  Saturday we also invited one of Kyle's little friends and his mom.  So that was five adults, three teenagers and four kids.  I warned them ahead of time that it would likely be a bit odd for them.   We’ve heard that the Thanksgiving menu combination sounds weird to non-Americans.  I was slightly nervous about trying to tackle T-day on my own but with the help of our friends’ daughter, Joy, we pulled it off!



(Sorry about the poor quality of the pictures.  Photography was obviously not first priority, eating was.)

Friday Joy and I started by making pies.  That is the most important part, right?  I had planned on doing a pecan pie and a chocolate chip pie.  But with the first mention of pie, Joy burst out exclamations about how much she loved the apple pie with cinnamon she once had.  Well, with that the plan changed.  First an apple pie.  Then a derby pie to combine my desire for pecans and chocolate.  I don’t think we have any future in opening a bakery based on the looks of things.  But if we were scored solely on taste, I think we could make it big time.  I’ve never had much luck with pastry dough but trying a new recipe from a friend changed that.  At the dinner table there was a lively debate going on between the derby pie eaters and the apple pie eaters.  The people who chose apple pie first were adamant that it was the best.  The derby pie team was convinced theirs was the best.  Of course each side opted to try the other pie and I don’t think we ever came to any conclusion on the winner.  In my opinion the derby pie took the prize because let’s be honest, pecans and chocolate are a show-stopping combination. 


Turkey isn’t easy to come by here, as you might imagine.  It’s not exactly an African-raised meat choice.  While during this time of year you can find them (I presume because of a relatively high foreigner populous), they are typically quite large and quite expensive.  My oven is small.  It is probably not much more than 1/2 the size of a standard oven in the US.  I knew there was not a way in the world I was getting a turkey and anything else in the oven.  So, I skipped the turkey and went with a ham and butter baked chicken.  Since chicken and turkey are something like cousins, I didn’t figure the substitution would be too frowned upon.  It wasn’t.  

A couple months back I found sweet potatoes at the grocery.  There are ‘sweet potatoes’ here but they are different, purple on the outside and off white on the inside.  The ones I found were brown on the outside and orange on the inside, just like I wanted.  I peeled, cooked and pureed them and sealed them in the freezer for sweet potato casserole.  French fried onions don’t exist here so I made my own for green bean casserole using this recipe.  Thankfully I had some Stove Top stuffing waiting in the cub bard, to me it wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without it.  I also made mashed potatoes and yeast rolls.  


A true American food

Being away from our loved ones is tough during special occasions.  We are hoping and praying the timing works out for us to be home for Christmas next year at the beginning of our home assignment.  Last year we visited with friends for Thanksgiving in South Africa and with more friends for Christmas in Maseru.  This year, however, we decided to stay close to home for the holidays.  I'm trying to be all here, not wishing we were anywhere else.  We bought a small Christmas tree, we've hung our few Christmas decorations and we're hunkering in for a cozy holiday season.  Fortunately, living in the nose bleed section of the world keeps the temperates relatively cool year-round.  At night, with the tree lights on, it is still comfortable to snuggle under a blanket and watch a movie.  Regardless, we do miss home and the excitement that holidays bring with family.  Yet we are so, so thankful for our dear friends here who share life and its joys and heartaches with us day in and day out.  They truly are our family here and we're glad they humor us enough to celebrate some holidays American-style.

~Abby

Sunday, November 30, 2014

18 Months

This week Ellee had a half birthday.  She’s changed so much since her first birthday.  Each day is a new adventure with her and I’m glad to experience it.  Even after falling head over heels for my boy, I never could have imagined the tender spot Ellee has found in my heart.  She’s everything I’ve dreamed of and more.  




The most notable development in Little Lady’s life over the past six months has been the long road to walking.  She’s stubborn.  She’s cautious.  She’s wobbly.  But she’s finally got it.  I never thought it would take her so long to figure it out.  Once she finally started standing and cruising around at 12 months, I thought within a couple months she’d be toddling around.  Boy was I wrong.  Just this week she has begun to switch from crawling to actually walking.  For speed and versatility she still prefers her hands and knees.  But she's learned that she can carry a lot more in her hands if she stands up.  One of her favorite pastimes is pushing a little chair around on the concrete floors, zooming from one side of the house to the other as fast as she can go.  It is loud and can be annoying, but it definitely helped her to gain some confidence in being upright.  She likes the stability that chair gives her and I just let her keep doing it.  We never invested in any “walking toys” for her.  But she has decided she enjoys taking her babies for a walk around the living room.  Or somethings she hauls the stroller and babies up the two steps into the dining room and kitchen and promptly stands up to take a stroll with them back and forth a few times.


Her baby dolls are probably her favorite toy right now.  She can’t quite shake the strong desire to make train, car and motorcycle noises like her brother.  But in general, she plays with her baby dolls most.  She pulls them out of their stroller and puts them back in any which way.  She brings them to me so I can feed them.  Smothering them with kisses and patting them on the back, I have to admit I’m really proud of her gentle spirit.  Until the inevitable happens and she throws one on the ground and picks the other up by her leg and shakes her relentlessly.  Then I’m reminded why God doesn’t give babies to babies.  Actually, I wonder sometimes why God gives babies to 24 year olds because certainly there are occasions when I’d also like to just get fed-up with my kids for not doing what I want….

Maybe by saying that I could get in trouble with the law but living where I live, I think they’d be hard pressed to hunt me down.  So I’ll just take this opportunity to mention that I would never actually hurt my kids but man alive do they know how to drive me nuts.

Kyle is easily her best friend.  They get along well for the most part and enjoy hours of playing together.  I know as she grows and gets more interactive, it'll only get more fun (and probably more difficult).  I already feel like a referee at times.  It's still sweet to watch them.


Reading books is how we like to pass our mornings and afternoons and evenings.  As if I need any help passing my hours, although I think Ellee thinks I do.  Ellee would be just about content to sit in my lap and nurse and read books all day long if I’d let her.  She can always find another book to read.  Sophie the Giraffe is a current favorite, along with “What Will You Wear Jessie Bear?”  and “The Wheels on the Bus.”  There are really too many to name.  We read books all day.  These days it’s a battle to get her to drink her milk in the morning before she wants to read a book.

She’s made leaps and bounds in the eating department lately.  Certainly she’d still prefer to nurse than eat anything resembling food, but I can usually get her to eat whatever is on the table.  She loves corn, although I’m not sure it loves her back.  She eats a lot of plain yogurt, cut up grapes, peas and carrots, avocados, bananas and pasta.  The girl loves pasta.  I don’t foresee weaning her anytime soon.  She’s still completely addicted to mama milk.  I feed her at least four times a day, sometimes five or six.  We barely fit in the rocking chair any more but it’s sweet nevertheless.  

New words come out of her mouth every day.  It’s thrilling to watch her figure things out.  In the past week or so she’s started saying: Ntate (which is what you call any man in Sesotho), hi, bye, no, cake, juice, Dada (finally!), Barby (Barney), snack, Kyle, bath paint, and who knows what all else.  She puts a couple words together, usually like book and night night.  Or bye-bye Mme.  Her newest word is fly.  I think it's not a typical word for an American child but it's definitely necessary for one living in Africa.  The problem is, she seems to really like flies.  I really hate flies.  I haven't tried to teach her that flies go, "buzz" because I prefer if flies go "splat".  It seems a bit morbid to teach her that.  She does seem awfully alarmed every time I smack one with my shoe.  I'll just let her figure that one out on her own.  Yesterday she was sitting on my bed and I started asking her to point to things.  She got eyes, ears, hair, nose, teeth, lips, chin, belly, hand and foot on the first try!  I was amazed.  We have not spent any time working on those things, she’s just picking them up in daily conversation and I am floored.  Obviously, I’ve watched this happen before.  But it’s still astounding to watch it again!  Oh if I could learn that fast I would be so much more intelligent than I am.


I really look forward to getting her out of her bed in the morning.  She is sleeping well these days and it’s nice to get a break from her all evening and night.  First thing in the morning she smells so sleepy and sweet.  I love what a mess her curls are and how wobbly her legs are as she stands in her crib.  It is exciting to know a new day is beginning with her, even if she can be exhausting at times.  I day dream of what sort of girl she’ll be and what sort of fun we’ll have together.  We have a sweet bond and there’s no denying that she prefers her mama.  Love that girl more everyday.

~Abby

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Why Don't You Just Ship Your Car?


Rocky doesn’t get enough attention.  He’s the hardest working member of our team, besides me of course ;).  Seriously, living where we live and doing what we do would be impossible without this tank.

Our first picture with Rocky who is named after the body builder in Toy Story

Before moving to Africa, we had to raise what seemed to us a ridiculous amount of money for a vehicle.  Little did we know what sorts of adventures we would get ourselves into with these 4-wheels…. wading rivers, climbing rocks, bumping along gravel roads for hours.  While living in the US, we drove a Toyota Avalon which served us well.  We paid cash for it, it didn’t give us any trouble and it was comfortable.  At this point, with two carseats, it would have been tight but we could have made do.  On many occasions we were asked, “Why don’t you just ship your car?”  Especially when we were initially way under funded for our vehicle project, it seemed like a somewhat reasonable idea.  Of course, shipping a car internationally isn’t exactly a walk in the park we hear and it is also quite costly.  So we stuck with the advice of our organization and fellow missionaries and charged forward trying to raise the money for a 4-wheel-drive tanker.  We didn’t really have to do much for the money for him; in the end two large donations made up the majority of the necessary funding to buy our Land Rover, although many friends and family contributed to purchasing him.

Looking at vehicles that might fit the bill, I specifically said I didn’t want to drive or ride around in something that looked like an army tanker.  Rocky could hardly look more like one unless we got him a custom camo paint coat.  Dark green, boxy, powerful and tough, he basically belongs on the front lines.  We believe he is on the front lines.  While he isn’t the most comfortable vehicle to take a trip in, he’s spacious, reliable and strong.  He takes the “roads” (glorified cow paths) up here like it’s his job.  Well it is his job.  We feed him expensive (and I mean expensive!) food, get him a number of gizmos and gadgets and replace his (expensive!) tires and he does the rest.


About once a month, we drive him down this road……..



……to buy our groceries and anything else we’ve realized we need while up here.  Jono, the car packing king, can stuff him full from top to bottom if necessary.  On any given trip, he carries the four of us, along with a suitcase, a pack & play, Ellee’s stroller, Kyle’s bike, 3 coolers, 5 reusable shopping bags full of food, a few pillows and blankets and goodness knows what else.  Once he had 4 suitcases, the coolers, the stroller, the pack & play, a toaster oven, pillows, blankets and a rocking chair and who knows what else  He loved it.




We use the back-a-Rocky (as it’s affectionately known to Kyle) for loads of other functions.  It can be a picnic table and a port-a-loo (not at the same time), a napping spot, a play gym, or a truck bed.  While he cruises along nicely on paved, smooth roads in the lowlands, he seems to prefer the challenge of climbing rocks and crossing rivers.  Sometimes we can’t help but laugh at how easily he takes on those things, like it’s nothing to drive through or over anything we put in his path.  It’s during those moments, when our heads are hitting the ceiling every five seconds as we bump along, that Jono and I will jokingly look at each other and ask “Why don’t you just ship your car?"


Picnic on the top-a-Rocky

This weekend we took him out on some rough roads and through a few rivers to a village for an evangelistic meeting.  It didn't even faze him.  Truly, we couldn’t make it like we do without this guy.  I think he deserves way more credit than we give him.  He’s practically part of the family and we’re glad we decided against shipping our car.  We’re hoping to get many more years out of Rocky.

Just imagine that's us because we were following right behind.....

....Not a boat or a canoe but a beast!

~Abby

Friday, November 14, 2014

Girl Weekend





Last weekend Ellee and I attended a missionary ladies’ retreat in South Africa. Admittedly, I dreaded trying to “retreat” with Ellee in tow. She is such a clingy monkey, doesn’t want to walk anywhere, and still very much addicted to nursing; I expected it wouldn’t end up being very retreat-ish at all. Nevertheless, trying to wean her for one quiet weekend away seemed a bit rash and leaving her behind unweaned with Jono and Kyle would’ve been nothing short of a nightmare for them. So along she came. I had no idea what to expect besides hearing that the retreat was very well done and there would be tons of food. Both insights were delightfully spot-on.




Our venue was a beautiful guest farm with cottages and rose gardens and stone walkways. It was like an oasis from real life. Upon arrival I learned that reception had decided to put the two of us in an available room, which meant we would be on our own. I cannot even express how relieved I was to hear that. While Ellee sleeps fine at home, she often stirs at night when we are away and I was so anxious about how she might interfere with our roommates’ rest. Having our own room made the whole experience exponentially more enjoyable. Aside from that, I believe the room we were in was one of the nicest on the farm! It was two traditional rondovals (round huts) connected together, the first a sitting room and the second the bedroom with an adjoining bathroom. The furniture was old-timey, beautiful wood and the bathroom had a standing tub and a fancy sink. There were rugs and carpet on the floors - a real treat - and the roof was thatched. We fell asleep to drizzling rain both nights. The baby bed they’d set up for Ellee was so squishy and comfortable that I would’ve enjoyed sleeping on it! My bed was heavenly as well, although I’m not used to sleeping in a big bed by myself these days. Both nights Ellee girl slept like a log and I didn’t do half bad myself. It was so special- the quiet in my room- knowing Ellee was there with me but also enjoying the peace of being alone.





Mornings began with hot coffee delivered on a tray to our door, and snuggles in my big bed while Ellee woke up and drank her milk. Her bright eyes are so darling in the morning, slightly puffy from good sleep and her hair a mess of curls in her face. She looks so snugly in her pretty jammies. I drank my coffee and Ellee ate her cookie in the bathtub while we (I) talked about what we were going to do that day. The farm cat, Wynford, was Ellee’s first request each morning. She loved visiting the “cat-kee” whenever we could find him. After bath time, I’d dress up my living doll and fix her hair complete with a tiny bow. She sat on my bed and played with whatever I gave her as I got myself ready. Then we would venture out of our little cottage for the day.  


Breakfast, lunch and dinner were served in a lovely dining room, each meal including no fewer than three courses; dinner had five or six! A bell was rung twice a day for tea time, first at 11:00 and again at 4:00, which was served alongside delicious baked goodies in a covered sitting area outside. We ate eggs and bacon, butternut soup and curried lamb and chocolate mousse and loads of other stuff. The homemade brown bread was fantastic and I know I ate too much of it! Ellee learned that she loves eating peas (which I never make) because they are perfect for little fingers to grab. She also likes lemon merengue pie and bran muffins and papaya.


The team of ladies from the States who came to facilitate our retreating really pampered us with chocolates, Bath & Body Works treats, and pedicures. They brought us taco seasoning and almond extract and maple flavoring and Hershey’s kisses. I love chocolate and new friends and new friends who bring me chocolate.

During Ellee’s nap times, I enjoyed worship and small group and Bible study with the other missionary ladies. When Ellee was awake, we often skipped the sessions and wandered around the farm visiting the bunnies, emus, and Wynford the cat. We sat in the lounge- a big living room with tons of fluffy couches and books and a sleeping kitty- to read books and practice walking and pet the feline. We walked around looking for the dog and at the birds and flowers.





Hauling around my lug of blonde curls was tough on my arms, but I’m so glad she was with me. I couldn’t help but fight back tears at what a sweet time we were having together. Every time I asked if she wanted to go do something, she agreed. I felt bad that I’d ever dreaded bringing her along. Even though it wasn’t as relaxing as it could’ve been alone, it was such a treasure to have her there. The only book we brought along from home was The Wheels on the Bus; I can’t remember how many times we read that silly book snuggled up in my bed. We made memories I’ll always cherish. Glad I had a tiny girlfriend to bring along to my getaway! Love that little lady.

~Abby

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Time Drags On and Flies By

I recognize that I've taken a blogging hiatus the past couple months.  We've been busy and we've had visitors and it's been lots of fun!

Anticipating the arrival of my mama, I spent most of September digging through and cleaning out areas of the house that often get overlooked.  Drawers get full of stuff we don't need to keep, in-between season clothes get put in random places and the cabinets needed a thorough cleaning after our month+ long battle to rid ourselves of an unwelcome resident mouse (we won).  It feels good to get things back to ground zero occasionally.  I feel like much of my day is spent shuffling junk from one place to another, namely toys.  So one Saturday while my neighbor took Kyle and Ellee for a walk, Jono and I kicked into high gear cleaning out and boxing up half the toys just to reduce the volume of stuff around the house.  That felt way better than I expected.

Due to some passport complications, Mom's trip was bumped back a week longer than we had planned leaving us up here in no-grocery-land to fend for ourselves on local food.  My attempts at making tasty meals out of basic ingredients were well accepted, thankfully.  By the time grocery shopping came the second week of October, we were out of just about everything.  We lived.

On October 9th we picked up Lollee bright and early at the Durban airport.  I was so excited.  Kyle was so excited!  Jono was so excited and Ellee was so clueless.  We had lots of fun catching up and getting happies she'd brought along from friends and family back home while we hung out in Durban for the rest of that morning.  It felt surreal to have her here.  We spent a night in Pietermaritzburg and then drove up to Mokhotlong on Friday after buying one of everything in the grocery store.

During our two weeks together in Mokhotlong, Mom and I embroidered a ton of stockings, watched more murder mysteries than I'm comfortable with admitting to, cooked lots of yummy meals and had late-night sleep overs.  We walked to town for Basotho "donuts", fed our neighbors' chickens, and played Memory with Kyle.  Ellee loved the attention from Lollee and decided she'd attempt walking (finally!) to impress her.  We took picnics to the river and let the kids splash in the water.  Thanks to an internet fluke in our favor, we were able to download a bunch of seasons of our favorite TV show, The Amazing Race, and we enjoyed watching the episodes during mealtimes.  Mom picked the first place winner for both seasons and now we owe her a gift card to a restaurant.  We gave each other pedicures, watched the Hobbit special features, fixed my vacuum so it works great now, and cleaned the house from top to bottom with it.




To wrap it up, we spent four nights in Durban on the coast before she flew back out yesterday.  We ate at some of our favorite restaurants, shopped till we dropped - or at least until our feet ached - and walked down to see the ocean despite the intense wind.  For breakfast we cooked bacon and eggs and toast in our room and fed the monkeys bananas through the windows.  One monkey nearly got in the room through the window and I just about had a heart attack.  Then I closed the windows completely and had a good laugh.  It was actually sort of funny to be on the glassed-in side of a zoo.  There were at least ten monkeys outside our window looking in at us eating our breakfast.  One mama monkey had a half-asleep baby clinging to her fur on her belly while she jumped and swung from trees and rooftops.  It was incredible how tightly that baby monkey had to have been holding on and yet was still able to sleep!  I tried to make sure she got food because I know what kind of slim pickings mamas get sometimes.




Time is such a funny thing.  The days were dragging as we waited for Mom to come, but they went by so fast while she was here.  Three weeks isn't nearly long enough to pack in enough fun to last half a year or more.  She could be here for three months and it wouldn't be enough.  As much as I tried to soak in every moment, I still feel like it flew by.  And as much as we did, there was still so much more that I had wanted to do but we didn't get the time.


I hate saying goodbye.  It physically hurts.  Every time I try to psych myself up and say I'm just gonna be tough and get through it.  And every time I just want to curl up in a ball and cry my eyes out.  Three weeks ago, I was so excited to go to the airport and pick her up.  Yesterday I hated the airport for having to take her away.  Coming back to the house is so hard because it feels empty and lonely.  I can barely look in her room without tearing up.  Thankfully I know this feeling passes.  When she and Lacy left last year, I was unprepared for how hard I would grieve.  This time I knew it was going to stink and that we would just have to get through it.  It's hard not knowing when we'll see each other again and knowing that there isn't really any chance of an unexpected visit.  I know it'll be a long time so I know it stinks.  And I know it hurts.


My relationship with my mom is something I'll always cherish.  We could not get along any better than we do.  Our days together are always fun, always light hearted and we always like the same things.  It makes it easy to be together and very hard to be apart.  I love you, Mama!  Thanks for traveling the world to come see me and my family.  We miss you!!!

~Abby