Tuesday, July 31, 2007

summer love / promises promises

I hate mosquitoes. I hate humidity. I can't really swim, I burn about a thousand times more easily than I tan, and I happen to like wearing sweaters.

And yet, somehow, I can't help but love summer. No, not because I feel some newfound sense of freedom or have overt amounts of time to relax. I love summer for pretty much one reason: food.

That's right, farm stands and markets overflowing with so much produce that my heart races, my mouth waters, and my head starts to spin. Certain people can attest to this love I have for food; it has the power to make me giddy with excitement. Now, I'm not exactly a wizard in the kitchen, though I do make a mean chocolate cupcake. Fact is, I'm an amateur. I approach cooking and baking the way I do photography: I do what I can given my lack of skill, test things out, and hope for the best. And while the results may prompt utterances of "what is that?," every once in a while I end up with something pretty spectacular.

Case in point: the "breakfast pizza" I made on Sunday.

SO delicious! It was filling but still (felt) nice and light, with the sweetness coming mainly from the berries. The recipe was on Everyday Italian, though I modified it here and there. I'll definitely make it again, but I think it deserves a better name than "breakfast pizza"....

Further efforts on the berry front yielded a fruit cobbler. I actually used this blueberry cobbler recipe, but as I only had one cup of blueberries and had picked around a cup's worth of wild blackberries earlier in the day, I decided to switch things up a bit. In place of the third cup o' berries, I sliced up a peach.

Eaten right out the oven with vanilla ice cream makes for one satisfying dinner, let me tell you. There were definitely seconds involved.

On the savory side of things, we (mein vater and moi) used up some zucchini in a pasta dish with light cream sauce. Don't know that this is something I'd cook again -- I'd rather make zucchini pie (actually, my overall preference would be to eat zucchini pie made by somebody else! HINT HINT).

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Remember how this is supposed to be a blog about Africa? As opposed to my domestic efforts? Yeah, so do I. Thing is, I kinda sorta have to go to Africa to write about my experiences there. But it's close, less than three weeks away. And I am SO excited. I have indeed been reading many books and watching movies related to all things South African. So this week, on my honor, there WILL be a South Africa post! Not from South Africa, but at the very least ABOUT it. Until then, well -- you'll probably find me in the kitchen :)

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

all signs are go

Can you tell I'm feeling optimistic at the moment? Maybe it's because I've been running every day and the endorphins are flowing, or perhaps it's because I spent the weekend relaxing, immersed in Harry Potter. Or maybe not, who knows? In any case, I don't mind it at all.

The picture above was actually taken awhile ago. I came across it when I was organizing my computer files, and it just fit my current mood so perfectly, I decided to post it.

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Lately, I've been thinking a lot about how one goes from feeling guilty to feeling grateful. In many ways, this is tied to my upcoming trip, though it's something I've dealt with for a long time. I have a tendency to feel bad about the things I have because I know so many people are living with much less. If I take a bath, for example, I can't help thinking that, somewhere in the world, there are people who don't have running water. And I start to feel guilty that, here I am, about to immerse myself in a tub full of hot water when others don't even have enough to drink. It's this inner battle, these seemingly unanswerable questions about why I "have" when so many do not. And I end up worrying so much about the state of the world, about humanity, that I essentially become paralyzed, which does no good whatsoever.

So for a long time, I've been trying to concentrate on being grateful for the many blessings in my life, whether material or intangible, instead of getting lost in the guilt. Guilt brings with it a tangled mess of anxiety and worry; it slows you up, traps you. But gratitude, I believe, is intricately linked to respect -- you are more likely to respect what you truly value. You protect it, cherish it, treat it with integrity. All of which is a lot more powerful -- and a lot more hopeful -- than anxiety and worry.

I cannot turn my head from the injustices in the world, but I don't want an awareness of them to drown me in guilt. I'd rather let that awareness lead to gratitude. To some sort of understanding. And, ultimately, to hope.

It's more than I can fully put in to words here, a complex idea that is pretty basic at its core. A bit of a paradox. But then, more often then not, that's life, isn't it?

Friday, July 20, 2007


It seems like I've been pretty busy since my last post, but seeing as none of it's been all that exciting, I haven't bothered to write about it. In between appointments and errands, my life has mostly been a blur of reading, running, and babysitting.

You know, there's something about the word "babysitting" that is innately middle school. "Nannying" might be a bit more age-appropriate, but let's face it, that's not what I'm doing. Nope, my primary source of income at the moment is babysitting, and, really, it's not such a bad gig. As a matter of fact, I happen to like it. Probably a good sign, eh? Me, liking kids? Because if I didn't, volunteering at a daycare center would be an awfully stupid idea. Not to mention the whole "elementary ed" major....

Anyway, more to follow on another day, when I actually feel like I've something to say!

Friday, July 13, 2007

back home, yet on my way

Finally! More of our zoo photos uploaded successfully. Below are a few of the images from the butterfly garden. The piglets, however, don't seem ready to be exposed to the greater public at such a young age, so there'll be no photos of them (meaning that, for whatever reason, those files STILL won't upload. And I give up already!). The butterflies will have to do.

Good, I'm glad that's out of the way (I say relieved, as if someone was holding me to it. Hmph!). Because I happen to have some very exciting news. Namely...

...I got my placement in South Africa! I'll be in Hout Bay, near Cape Town, living with the Sgwentu family and working at the Angels and Starfish daycare, which the family started in their converted garage. I'm told there are 44 kids, ages 18 mos. to six-and-a-half years. Most of the kids are from the Imizamo Yethu township. The school already has some "basics" and two teachers. That means two people to care for all 44 little ones. Crazy, when you think I had my hands so full with fifteen. And I had three helpers!

Oh, I am so excited to start working with these kids, I can hardly stand it! Whenever I think of it, I can't stop smiling. The feeling of being on the "right track," like somehow I'm headed where I'm meant to be, is overwhelming. Of course, once I'm being peed on and having my hair pulled as I attempt to get a group of 20 or more shouting children to settle down and pay attention may change that somewhat. But let's cross that bridge when we get to it, shall we?

In the meantime: I. Can't. WAIT!!

I suppose I'll have to, though, won't I? Agh, the anticipation!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

the zoo! (sort of)

In my previous posts, I haven't exactly been at a loss for words. So this time around, I thought I'd limit myself text-wise and just share a few photos from the Minneapolis Zoo, where Andy and I went the day before I flew home.

Gibbons defending their territory (the black one is the male).

While I may not see these particular flowers in South Africa, they get me excited for everything I might see.

Well, it seems I'm having trouble getting any more images to upload, so the butterfly garden and 6-week-old piglets will have to wait!

Monday, July 9, 2007

there may not be a beach, but it's still a vacation

Well, it's been nearly a week since my last post, and a busy one at that. I finally have a little downtime today (nothing to do but pack, really), so I thought I take some time to write.

This has really ended up feeling like a true vacation, I must say. My days have continued to be filled with museum visits, great food, coffee, and books. Oh, and movies. Definitely have seen a lot of movies this week, mostly because it's such a great way to escape the heat. What more could I ask for?

On Wednesday, Andy and I celebrated the country's independence by going downtown....and eating at a British-style pub :). It was on Nicollet Avenue, sort of touristy, but still fun. Seeing as I drank a couple pints of Guinness, it would have been difficult for it not to have been fun. Later we watched the fireworks from a bridge near Andy's apartment. There were lanes for bikes and cars on the bridge, though very little traffic passed by -- most people ended up stopping and parking along the sides. The best word I have to describe the atmosphere is gemütlich; there is no exact English equivalent. The fireworks just seemed to slow down the world for a little while, put people in a good mood. It was nice, it really was.

Thursday evening, we visited the Walker, which currently has an exhibit on Picasso and American art. The museum was OK, I suppose. I mean, I'd go back, but the atmosphere was far from gemütlich -- in my opinion, it felt downright pretentious. The sculpture garden across the street, on the other hand, was great, yielding some good photo ops and a pleasant walk.

Afterwards, we headed back to Dinkytown and ate at the gorgeous Loring Pasta Bar. The food was good (highlights being our appetizer -- a steamed artichoke with buttermilk dipping sauce; and our dessert -- an incredibly rich, ganache-like chocolate cake. YUM!), but the interior of this place, well, WOW. It's like being inside a fairy tale, from the dripping candles and thick, draping fabrics, to the swirling brickwork and long, spindly tree branches reaching across the room. Absolutely beautiful.

Speaking of fabulous food and restaurants, have you seen Ratatouille yet? LOVED this movie! I couldn't help myself. I especially enjoyed the way they depicted what it's like when you truly taste your food, the whole experience of food. It wasn't anything too flashy, but I found myself going, "Mmm! Yes, it IS like that!" And also craving Valrohna chocolate. And fresh strawberries. And cake. And buttery steamed vegetables. And pastries. And soft French cheeses. And....well, you get the picture :).

We also saw Knocked Up and Transformers, both of which I liked (though not as much as Ratatouille). The former completely reminded me of many of my friends, while the latter was an excellent way to kick back for awhile. Kind of mindless without being mind-numbing -- all in all, good (albeit sometimes ridiculous) entertainment.

Well, I do have more to write about, but I'm no fool -- I know this post is getting long, so the rest will have to wait. You'd think posting every day would feel like too much, but I'm starting to understand that just the opposite is true.

In the meantime, enjoy this view of the city, courtesy of Andy; sit back, and we'll make a toast: to vacations! Of any and every kind.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

the time has come, the walrus said...

...to talk of many things!

And while I may not have much to say about shoes, ships, sealing wax, cabbages, or kings, I do think I can figure out SOMETHING for this first-ever post.

Originally, I was thinking I'd wait to start posting until about a month or so before I'm set to leave for South Africa, since that trip is the main reason behind starting this blog. But I've been bouncing around Minneapolis for the past few days, and I thought, why not? Why not write, right now?

So that's what I'm doing.

I'm staying at Andy's place in Dinkytown, right next door to the U of M campus, and there's a lot to do within walking distance. Still, I find myself frequently wishing I had a bike to use -- there are lanes EVERYWHERE for cyclists and no shortage of people riding. Not that I'm complaining. Nice as a bike might be, I can be content with my own two feet. Mostly because I have to be.

Yesterday I walked to the Weisman Museum (gotta love Gehry -- the building really shines from any angle, no pun intended), followed by the Bell Museum of Natural History. As to which one I preferred, well. Intriguing art, including an exhibit exploring the role of light in the work of nine Minnesota-based artists, vs. stuffed birds and mammals in glass cases. C'mon, people -- is there really any question? Plus, the Bell Museum cost five bucks and smelled weird, and the Weisman was free, both dollar- and scent-wise (did you catch that one? Haha!).

However, I will give the Bell some credit, as a lot of the birds on display were ones I'd seen "in action" on my birdwatching trip to Ohio (this bird, for example), so it was kind of cool to seem them up close and in a very "study-able" way. Oh, and there were also live turtles -- I liked them, too. Oh, and the Amazonian fig trees, those were cool. Oo, oo, and the mock-bog you could walk on! Ok, fine, so I guess it was better than I made it out to be. Even if it smelled funky. I suppose I'd call the scent "stale taxidermy" if I had to give it a (not-so-technical) name.

Apart from museums, much of my time has been spent in coffee shops (I've been to four different ones in Dinkytown alone), browsing used books, getting lost while taking the bus (I misjudged where I could walk from my stop -- whaddaya gonna do?), eating excellent food with Andy (here, and also here), and reading. Granted, it's not exactly Africa, but it IS a bit of an adventure. And I must say, I like it.

View of the Weisman as the sun sets (thanks, Andy!)