18 August 2014

It Really Is That Simple -- Just Go Run

From Runner Girl.
I had a couple good runs last week but on Saturday morning I didn't get up and out early, like I'd thought about doing. I made coffee. I tried uploading some photos (after twenty-four hours, they finally loaded!). I watched Muffin watch cartoons. Then as I was scrolling through my Facebook feed I came across this image on Runner Girl. I put on my shoes and went for a run. Mike and Muffin were riding bikes. It was cloudy, so not too hot, but the kind of cloudy that doesn't reveal what's happening next. Within an hour it was either going to be clear and too sunny to be outside or there was going to be torrential downpour and thus too dangerous (street flooding) to be outside. It turned out to be torrential downpour. It's a good thing we all got our outdoor activities in when we did.

I ran. My road isn't quite as scenic.
I ran three miles, picking my away along the road. Even with the trail conditions and stopping for traffic at busy intersections, I'm averaging about ten-minute miles, so I'm happy with my overall pace. I'm still getting confused  -- wait a minute, didn't I approach that statue from the other direction last time I ran? -- but recognizing enough landmarks to get me around.

Last week we made one of the best food investments ever. We bought a tortilla press. We've made fresh corn tortillas three times in the last week and I don't think we'll ever go back to store-bought, even once we're back in the States and can buy them easily. We don't have it down quite perfectly yet and I'll probably never be as good as an abuella. They are darn tasty, though, and with a big pot of beans plus the last of the seasonal mangos and avocados, soft tacos have been a great treat.

Happy running and eating this week!

11 August 2014

This Is Peanut Butter Country

Peanuts are a staple food in West Africa, where they are called groundnuts. Many regions have a groundnut stew to serve up with vegetables and a starch. Here in Bamako the local peanut butter, or pate d'arachide, is sold in buckets in the supermarkets. It's used for making a gravy for meats. In our house it's been made into banana bread and banana muffins, peanut butter cookies (which our housekeeper loved!), and peanut sauce for veggies and tofu.

Cashews are inexpensive here, unlike most of the rest of the world. They are a popular crop in West Africa because the climate is good for growing them and worldwide demand makes them profitable.  Their tasty availability has me anxiously awaiting the arrival of my food processor for cashew cream "cheese," cashew butter, and cashew milk.

I went for my first run in Bamako on Sunday, a short run to familiarize myself with our neighborhood. Right now is the perfect time of year for running outside -- relatively cool and cloudy. Early in the morning there were few cars on the road; on Sunday mornings traffic doesn't pick up until about 10:30. A few children said, "Bonjour!" and one man said, "Courage!" when I ran by, which is what Burundians sometimes yell to runners, also. I feel like I can get a lot of good miles in this town over the next couple years. I'm glad I brought trail runners, even for running on the road. Main roads are paved but the sidewalk, when there is one, is a dirt path that's often covered in rocks and debris. Looking at the photo, I can't remember now if that's a hard-packed dirt road or a paved road that has a layer of dirt on top of it. The red dirt coats everything.

Muffin goes back to school in one week which means I go back to regular running. (I am invoking all the patience and endurance I have learned through yoga and long-distance running to make it through this last week.) And that means we need a lot of food in the freezer for quick meals and snacks. We spent the weekend baking muffins and cookies. We tried our new tortilla press for the first time. We got Indian take-out for the third time in three weeks, just to test it one more time and make sure the leftovers are still delicious. This week will be a busy one for making tortillas, buckwheat crepes, Chebe bread, and more muffins, all for the freezer, and finding the best loaf of local bread for Muffin's peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to hold her over until my bread maker arrives. The shipment with my blender will hopefully arrive this week and I plan on sending my housekeeper out in search of the last mangoes of the season for the freezer, for mango smoothies. Our other food project this week is to seek out the good meat supplier and place an order. We haven't been thrilled with the meat we've been getting from butchers and super-marchés so far.

Happy running and eating this week!

28 July 2014

Seeking Out Running Opportunities

Sunday morning we decided to stop at a cafe for breakfast before doing a little grocery shopping. Since I can't eat gluten and I don't like eggs, breakfast is one of the hardest meals of the day for me to eat out in Africa but most of the time I can get some fruit and yogurt, and if I'm lucky, a little bacon. This restaurant was out of fruit plate, however (despite a bustling fruit market just down the block), and bacon. As I drank my surprisingly good coffee and munched on half a stale Lara bar I'd had in my purse while watching Muffin eat waffles and Mike eat pancakes, I felt discouraged. 

Then the channel on the television changed from a nature show about whale pregnancies to a marathon and waitstaff who hadn't been interested in serving us materialized to watch. I got up to watch, too. I didn't know until later that it was the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. I couldn't hear most of the French commentary and there were no graphics on the screen informing me of anything other than distance and time. It didn't really matter, though. I watched and I felt happy. 

We visited the Parc National du Mali on Saturday for a short hike. There's a fitness trail with some crazy 1970s-like workout equipment, but it looks fairly new. I hopped onto a few machines and felt like I was in a Jack Lalane video, or the Ben Stiller Daniel Day Lewis treadmill sketch from Saturday Night Live. Muffin had a blast trying out all the equipment. I envision myself jumping into the car as soon as she gets on the school bus in the mornings to get to the parc early to run the trail up the mountain before the heat of the day sets in. I caught site of a track from our hike up the mountain, too. 

Mike thinks our neighborhood is fine for me to run in, I just need him to take me out a couple more times so I get the lay of the place. We have a treadmill coming in our household shipment. There's a gym at Mike's office. I can run laps around the field while the rest of the expat community plays ultimate frisbee on Sunday nights. There's a hash club here. There are ways to run. 

I didn't plan my gluten-free foods in advance of arrival in Bamako as well as I should have, so I'm hesitant to try too much running or working out quite yet. I'm making strides with grocery shopping and our housekeeper but everyday living and figuring things out in a new place is still taking up a lot of time and energy. One of the cookbooks I mailed to myself arrived last week, one that I'd already jotted down French translations for our housekeeper in Burundi, so I was able to ask our Malian housekeeper for the right ingredients without consulting the dictionary again. I hope some of my gluten-free mixes arrive this week so I can have crepes and make quick breads. I stocked up on local peanuts, popcorn, and honey to try making some kind of peanut-popcorn snack this week. The local yogurt is good and our housekeeper has a fresh, pasteurized milk source. Yesterday I found a good avocado at the fruit stand, which I overpaid for, but my housekeeper says it hasn't been good weather for them this year, so everyone is overpaying for the good ones. We are eating mangos like they're going out of style, because they might be soon. The rainy season has been unusual and we are eating produce while it's available.

Today is a "surprise" holiday -- you never know until the last minute which day will be the holiday for Eid al-Fitr, the end of Ramadan. Mike has the day off so we are contemplating getting outside for a bit, exploring a new place. I have enough bottled water and peanut packs for a day hike.

25 July 2014

The Dull Roar of a Million Peep Toads

Is what I’m listening to right now. We had a night of heavy rain and around five o’clock this morning when I got up to use the bathroom I could hear them as I passed by the window. By the time I got up later for breakfast, they were so loud we could hear them in the living room above the sound of the air conditioner. If there weren’t so many mosquitoes right now we’d be outside poking around mud puddles looking for toads and tadpoles.

But we have to be extra careful of mosquitoes right now. Africa has thrown a few challenges at us in our first week here.

First thing Monday morning Muffin and I took our anti-malaria pills. We call it Malaria Monday and take the pills with breakfast. Later that day I found out that the pills the travel clinic in Rhode Island gave us are no good here. The local malaria strain is resistant to chloroquine so we have to get on mefloquine ASAP. Unfortunately we can’t overlap the two, so we have to wait a couple more days before we can start the mefloquine, which means we are on high alert for avoiding mosquito bites. We have Deet and bed nets so we’re doing the best we can. As tempting as it is to go outside in the relative coolness after the rain, I think we need to stay away from the bugs.

I was hit with some kind of stomach thing on Tuesday. On Wednesday I felt bad enough to see the nurse at Mike’s office. I wasn’t quite sick enough for her to think I had an infection and she didn’t think I’d been here long enough for a parasite to gestate so the best she could do was treat me for dehydration, which was definitely one of my symptoms and certainly something that could lead to the other symptoms I was suffering from. For twenty-four hours I drank a horrible-tasting rehydration solution, but it seems to have done the trick. I’m not 100%, but I feel much better today than I have any other day this week. The five pounds I gained during my winter hibernation have vanished.

I’ve had some ups and downs with the housekeeper. Mostly, she’s very good and is trying hard to be helpful, but due to the language barrier and my not feeling well it’s been difficult to give her accurate instructions. I did some successful grocery shopping yesterday and tutored her in soaking dried beans and making a vegetable soup that I found appetizing, so the good meal has improved my spirits as much as anything could. To be fair, she probably knew how to make this soup already, but my French wasn’t good enough to instruct her in what I wanted, so I needed to show her exactly which vegetables, herbs, and spices to put in. I did not find the Chinese market yesterday, which is rumored to have tofu, but I think I pinpointed the neighborhood it’s in so I should be able to find it next time.

I don’t know how much coverage the airline crash in Mali is receiving in the rest of the world (because due to all the rain, the satellite isn’t working so we have no generic international or American news, only what I choose to read online). I’m glad we flew last week, though, instead of this week. The flight between Paris and Bamako was turbulent enough without landing during the thunderstorms we’re having now.

I’ll end with a few photos from the week. You can follow my photos on Instagram: http://instagram.com/stephaniesdiamond

The fire finches like to hang out in our windows.

Storm clouds on Thursday afternoon.

The view from our balcony.
There's no filter on this; it really does look like the 1970s here.

Feeding our eight parrots.

20 July 2014

Dateline Bamako

Muffin and I have arrived in Bamako, Mali, finally reuniting with Mike. He’s been here since April. He came home for a couple weeks in June, then returned, while we stayed back to do the pack-out and enjoy a little bit of Rhode Island summer vacation. We left Rhode Island last Thursday and about twenty-four hours later we landed in Bamako, tired and a little crabby but thrilled to be together as a family again.

Muffin is still adjusting, but she’s doing well. This time of year the time difference with the East Coast is only four hours and we’ve been able to manage our time well so far. I expect both of us to crash and burn any day now, though, as the excitement of travel wears off and the reality if living here sinks in, probably shortly after Mike leaves for work tomorrow and I’m faced with a full day on my own with Muffin. I feel pretty comfortable there, though, more so than I did in India. And after living in Burundi, Mali isn’t nearly as shocking. My French comprehension kicked in as soon as we got off the plane in Paris and I’ve understood just about everything that’s been said to me. I’ve even made a handful of successful transactions in stores and restaurants. We’ve walked around the neighborhood and I can find the homes of some other Americans with children about Muffin’s age, plus a snack shop and a pharmacy.

This is Africa, where the tonic water glows blue in the light of the bug zapper and the best meal at most restaurants is a brouchette with fries and a Fanta. I feel at home.

12 March 2014

Ocean's Run and Running by the Ocean

Two days after my most recent half marathon -- the Ocean's Run from South Kingstown town beach -- I was still lurching around like Frankenstein's monster. But I knew Running While Mommy was planning to run today and while I couldn't join RWM in person I decided to join her in spirit. I hoped a short run would shake out my legs a bit and relieve some of the aching but it didn't really.

I ran fast (for me) in Sunday's half marathon and I'm proud of myself. My previous half was two hours and fifteen minutes; I was hoping to be faster than that and I was, in two hours and eight minutes. Mike and Muffin joined me early in the morning and my mom had joined them by the time I finished. After all the cold weather long runs RWM and I had done with some other friends, the weather on Sunday was almost shockingly warm once we got moving. It was still chilly, though, with the ocean breeze. While I ditched my mittens the first time I saw Mike and Muffin, I'm glad I kept my hat. Every time I warmed up a bit I'd turn a corner and the wind would hit me, freezing me again.

So, that's one more race behind me. I'm trying to decide which races to do next with my shrinking amount of time in the US. I'm shopping around for a treadmill to take with us to Mali. I signed up for the Spring Bootie Buster Challenge to keep me on track while the craziness of spring cleaning and summer packing gets under way.

23 February 2014

We're Moving to Mali

The title about sums it up.

Our plans have changed from what we thought would be happening last year at this time. But we're happy with the change. I've been tired of the United States for a few months now. I'm certainly done with winter. Muffin asks every day if we're moving back to India. If we're going to Pakistan. If we're going to Chad. If we're going to Mali. She hasn't been in one place for so long without getting on a plane and traveling somewhere (although that changed las week when we went on vacation); she assumes every morning we are waking up early and going to the airport. My aunt told Muffin she has itchy feet and Muffin agreed, although in the sense that her feet are literally itchy because of her winter dry skin.

We haven't even unpacked all the boxes from India yet and my project for the next few months is to decide what goes to Mali and what doesn't. I've already got lists for consumables, for our suitcases, for the air shipment, and for the boat shipment, based on two overseas moves already and on the basic nonavailability of so much stuff in Africa (Mali may have slightly more to offer than Burundi, but I'm not taking any chances).

I've started speaking French to Muffin. We're hoping to enroll her in a preschool program that will prepare her for full-immersion French kindergarden. She doesn't seem to remember any Telegu or Hindi but she is taking to the French very well.

She is so certain that we still live in Hyderabad. I think there's a lot about Mali that will be familiar to her and make her feel at home.

Mike has been working in various African places the last few weeks. He said landing in Africa felt like being home again.

We all have itchy feet that are ready to be back in Africa.

It's About Time

I do have a lot to say, it just hasn't been blogging time lately. It's been writing in other places time and training for a half marathon time and preparing for our next assignment time and taking Muffin on a week-long Florida road trip time. Updates and photos to come in the near future.

06 January 2014

Time to Clean Up

Last year was a year of change, transitioning from India to the United States. This is going to be my year of cleaning and purging while we stay put in one house for a while. I got a good start during the packing and unpacking last summer and fall but now that the holidays are over it's time to get back on that project.

I went through my stash fabrics and I used this tutorial for a tree skirt for the Christmas tree, this one for a scrap skirt for Muffin (photo to come once I've completed the whole outfit), and this one for a Lego bag. I have a couple winter clothes projects planned, for which I had to buy some new fabric, but once they're done it's back to the stash for spring and summer sewing.

I've put a number of books up on PaperBackSwap.com and have resisted the urge to use all my new credits to receive a bunch of replacement books.

I've been cleaning out my closet. On Friday I put a ton of clothes up on Freecycle.com and by the end of the day half of it had been picked up. Anything that's not picked up by the time Muffin goes back to school on Tuesday will go into one of the many donation bins that we pass on the drive between home and school.

I gave a little TLC to the vacuum cleaner that was put into storage in 2008 and not used since then. The filters are supposed to be washable, but they weren't washed before going into storage (whoops!) and they are beyond washing now. Black and Decker no longer makes them but still has some for sale on their site so in lieu of buying a new vacuum I bought new filters so I can delay a vacuum impulse purchase and research a good one.

I realized that now that I'm driving around in winter with a kid in the car, I really should get things checked out in a timely manner because I really, really don't want to break down in bad weather with my little companion. On that note the car is going into the mechanic shop again today.

I joined a gang... of other moms who are training for the same half marathon that I am in March. Once the kiddos are all back in school we hope to start running together again. I need that. My lungs are all dusty from the cleaning. I need fresh air on a regular basis but without motivation I won't go outside when it's cold.

Right now it feels like my full-time job is to get ready for the next move and whether I'm cleaning out my closet or getting the car fixed, everything contributes to that goal. We don't even know when the move will be or where it will be to but it is always looming. I'm still unpacking boxes from the last move. I'm making trips to the dumpster every day. I'm spending time in various stores trying to decipher the best storage solutions for things like all my stash fabrics and sewing supplies so it's more organized for the next move. I'm reducing clothing and toys and books. We put every single DVD and CD into sleeves in binders and threw out all the plastic cases, reducing our next move by several boxes and pounds.

It's going to be a long, cold winter and I resolve to put my indoor time to good use. 

10 November 2013

Are You Up for Holiday Bootie Buster Challenge 2013?

For the third year in a row I'm participating in the Holiday Bootie Buster Challenge at Run to the Finish. This year is going to be tough. Last year I contended with a combination of Indian and American holidays between October and January. This year I'm back in the United States after five holiday seasons overseas and I fully intend to indulge in all the treats I've missed. I signed up early, before Halloween, to get me thinking about staying on track through the eating extravaganza. It's cold here and I'll need the motivation for getting outside for a run. Also it will be too easy to eat comfort food on cold winter nights. Adding veggies to those foods will help keep me healthy.

I've already started preparing. I've unpacked and/or replaced all the parts of my blender for smoothies and purées. I'm freezing a lot of foods for healthy convenience dinners on those nights when I'm too tired or when it's been more important to be outside playing with Muffin rather than inside chopping veggies. I started freezing summertime blueberries and tomatoes months ago. I'm making double batches of snacks and meals when I have the time so I can put the extra in the freezer. When I made lasagna last week I made two and put one in the freezer. I used a mixture of half ricotta cheese and half tofu. To jazz up jarred tomato sauce and sneak in extra veggies, I sautéed red peppers and garlic to mix into the sauce and on top of the middle sauce layer I added a layer of sliced tomatoes. 

Mike leaves today for Washington, D.C., before heading overseas and we don't know when we'll see him again. It could be this weekend. It could be Thanksgiving. It could be in January or February. It's going to be stressful and I'd be prone to hibernating if I didn't have to take Muffin to school every day. But, since she is in school, I have several hours a day to myself and I plan on making the most of them. I want to stay happy and healthy so I can care for Muffin and take care of myself.

The Challenge is more fun with friends! If you decide to join please refer to my blog or to my Twitter handle, @StephanieSD. Then tell your friends about the Challenge, too! I'm not in training for anything. I don't plan on running a marathon ever; I'm quite happy with the half marathon. But the Challenge is fun. There's an online community of support. You earn points for any amount of working out and bonus points for other activities such as cleaning the house or playing outside. You also earn points for eating enough fruits and veggies. I wasn't expecting to win anything last year but I ended up winning a nice Asics long-sleeved zip-up shirt that I've already worn several times over the last few days of chilly weather. So, just by putting forth a little effort, you could win a fabulous prize, too!

The Challenge starts on November 17, so get a move on!



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