Friday, April 30, 2010

April Haiku Book Reviews

Note: this series is meant to be a summary of the books I read this past month, told in 17 syllables.

The Modern Scholar Presents: The Anglo-Saxon World, by Prof. Michael D. C. Drout [audiobook]

A peek at ancient
times, of foundations we think
are stone, but are wood.

The Diamond as Big as the Ritz and other stories, by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Stories well-told, but:
people wealthy and pretty,
yet petty and cruel.

The Deceiver, by Frederick Forsyth

M.I.6 reviews
Veteran spy's career,
In four great cases.

The Geography of Bliss, by Eric Weiner

Happiness, as told
country by country, some more,
some less. A fun read.

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, by Jules Verne [audiobook]

Captain Nemo: Mad?
Genius? Visionary? Cruel?
All these, and much more.

The Full Cupboard of Life, by Alexander McCall Smith

Mr. J.L.B.
Matekoni finally
gets it right in the end.

The Sign of the Four, by Arthur Conan Doyle

Secret pacts, treasure,
Poison darts and boat chases;
Watson meets his bride.

Lion in the Valley [audiobook] by Elizabeth Peters

Emersons, Sethos
meet again, in disguise, and
in antiquities.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Not a Morning Person

This morning as I was trying to go through the usual first-thing checklist of a weekday, I had a tough time of it. Getting out of bed was tough, as Zoe and I have had tickling coughs that woke us both up a bit. I brushed my teeth, dressed, and dragged myself to the kitchen to feed the ravenous cat, make coffee, and get everyone's breakfast ready while Andrea got Zoe dressed and groomed, just like every day.

However, unlike every day, our kitchen set-up was a little different. The step-down voltage transformer is a device that sits on our countertop and is absolutely vital to allowing our American 110V appliances work safely despite running on a 220V power grid. Our coffee grinder and my wonderful Zojirushi drip coffee maker were unplugged, and I plugged them in. I fired up the grinder, it started, and then stopped. No more. I tried it on the transformer in the office, and no dice still. I came back to try one last time in the kitchen, and found that the coffee maker had stopped working as well. I turned on the toaster, and it was instantly blazing hot. It took a minute before I figured it out: I had the power strip plugged into the side putting out 220V! I had nearly instantaneously fried my coffee maker and my mill.

As far as the mill is concerned, it was a cheapy; a simple spinning rotor that worked well enough but wasn't particularly loved. But it worked. And now it doesn't. And I have other ways of making coffee (here the "French Press" and "Mokka Express"are ubiquitous and work quite well when there's no electricity, and I have them both). But I love a good-ol' American pot of coffee, and now, it's finished.

So the reason the appliances were not plugged in this morning was that I had to replace the transformer I had been using. This was because our old transformer was stolen from our kitchen while we slept last Thursday night. Some thieves broke into our house by cutting the screen of the window in Zoe's play room and made off with a pirate's chest worth of our stuff, including Andrea's work laptop, our good camera, our DVD player, our stereo with speakers and subwoofer, and cash from Andrea's purse (though strangely no phones or credit cards, thank goodness).

We'll miss all of these, and probably replace all from our own pockets, but the worst part is the really unnerving loss of a sense of security in our own home. We had a guard on duty who did not hear the thieves, but then again, neither did we, and we were inside the house. Now, before bed, we lock every ground floor window (except one in our bedroom -it's just too hot here for that), as well as the doors to the guest room, the play room, the office, and the kitchen. We keep one more external light on all night. We don't keep our iPods or keys or Andrea's purse or anything electronic out -even in our bedroom. It takes 5 minutes longer to get ready for bed and to open up the house. And we're thinking of getting a dog. We met a few puppies who applied for the job from our friend Isabel, who found them on the side of the road two weeks ago. This is the biggest step, and we're not entirely ready to go ahead, but think it's coming.

So that's how my morning started. But Zoe got to school well, Andrea got to work on time, and I used a mortar and pestle to try to grind the coffee. I don't recommend it.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Camping Again

A few weeks ago -over Easter weekend- we were able to get away with some friends for a great weekend of camping. Andrea had Good Friday off as a national holiday, so we took off in the late morning in convoy with our friends Sion, Emma, their daughter Niamh, and their lovely big black dog Griff (actually spelled differently as it's a Welsh name, but I can't for the life of me remember it, as Welsh words make less sense to me than Chinese words). We drove North to the Ugandan border, crossed over into Kabale, through it, and a few miles out of town, headed off the beaten track, and up into the high mountain passes to Lake Bunyoni.

The worst roads were tied between the single-lane dirt roads into the lake area, and the awful dirt roads in our neighborhood. The most time-consuming portion was actually crossing from Rwanda to Uganda. Sion and I handled all the paperwork, and girls and dog stayed in the SUVs. We had one predicted office for passport stamps and visas (efficient, though it ought to be for $50 US per passport). Then for the car there were FIVE offices to go to just for the Ugandan government, including one for security and one separate one for the police. While in the police office we asked the very bored female police officer whether we were required to purchase third-party insurance for their side of the border, and she had absolutely no idea. Strange, but we shrugged our shoulders and bought some (there are at least 3 insurance offices at the border), and then exchanged Rwandan Francs for Ugandan Shillings. So of all our travel from door-to-door, we were on the road about 4 1/2 hours, with a good deal of that at the border.

Then once we arrived at the lake, we dropped off all our gear (and it was a lot) in the transport company's office (a tiny wooden shack with a desk), parked the cars in a lot, then watched porters load all our stuff on a stretched-out rowboat with an outboard motor. With six or eight chickens. Because of Griff, they decided the goat could wait for the next crossing.

We jumped in as well, and were off to the middle of the lake.

Ten minutes later we were disembarking on Bushara Island and climbing through the forest to the reception area.

In the interest of not taking forever to get this out, I'll continue it in another post soon.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Zoe Fait La Betisse

"Zoe fait la betisse" is the local French term for "Zoe is being silly" or "Zoe is making silliness". She says is a lot, and usually with a great effervescent giggle, often with various other noises, and rocking the head back and forth like a broken metronome.

The first photo is her playing in my sleeping bag on a very hot afternoon; we had been airing it out after camping in Uganda.

The next is entirely her idea as well. We were airing out the borrowed tent (thanks, Sam and Lindsey!) a day or two later, and occasionally playing in it. After bath, she thought it a wonderfully witty idea to put her underpants on her head, and walk around giggling and tilting her head.

By the way, she LOVES camping. We are already working on getting a gigantic family-size tent and several other items for people who never pitch a tent more than a block away from their car. Actually, it's probably telling that I used a block for a measure of distance rather than miles or kilometers. We're talking easy camping. But if that's what it takes to get us out there, I'm for it.

The last two are a playdate with her friend -and close neighbor- Miranda. It should be noted that Miranda is one of her few American playmates. She's about 8 months younger, full of energy, not at all shy, and usually loads of fun. Despite their completely different temperaments, they get along really well.

By the way, I'm sorry it's taken so long for a post with actual photographs. I've got a little ways to go in finally fixing all the photo bugs, but it's still getting better. Hopefully another post is coming soon.