32 and counting…

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I am five days away from my 32nd birthday. I know a lot of people who down play their birthdays and say its just another day. I am not one of them. I think I’ve tried the low key birthday before and just was not a fan. I’m pretty sure it all stems from the year that I threw myself a hawaiian theme birthday party with colorful plastic leis and little umbrellas in the drinks. I was 12 and it was awesome, just asked the lucky girls that were in attendance.

Actually I think I have my Mom to thank for special birthdays. When my sister and I were little my Mom started a tradition of serving us breakfast in bed on our birthdays. It started the day off on a special tone. I can remember getting up early to help prepare breakfast for my sister as her birthday is a month before mine. It was exciting to take the tray up to her room and walk in with a silly smile on my face to be the first to wish her a happy birthday. The tradition was that the siblings of the birthday child would sit on the edge of the bed and watch the birthday child open cards and eat breakfast and help celebrate the start of their special day. I love every bit of this tradition.

There were a few rough birthdays years. Years where I expected the day to be special but was disappointed by how un-special it turned out. (There was even a year where the entire day fell apart and I ended up crying myself to sleep, we don’t speak so often of that birthday) After a few of these less special birthdays I learned that it was up to me to make the day great. So for the last few years I took work off on my birthday and would create a special day for myself. I have gone out to breakfast, gone hiking, kayaking, shopping downtown Seattle, and got my butt kicked in a family game of croquet. (I think my Dad secretly practices so that he can bet us)

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Two years ago when I was turning 30 and feeling a bit unsure about it, some of my very good friends threw me a very glamours backyard party. My Mom made me a dress. (There isn’t anything this woman can’t do) It was magical. As friends were arriving and enjoying a cocktail before we sat down to a beautiful dinner outside under the stars I kept thinking to myself this is what birthdays are all about. Its a chance to bring friends together and celebrate.

This year my birthday magically felt on our R&R. So keeping with my tradition I will not be working and I will be in place where going out to breakfast is possible and perhaps even some fun shopping, good cheese and nice bread, and a movie in a movie theater. (Its the small things guys) My brilliant husband even orchestrated a trip to the spa the day after my birthday. (So perhaps we are celebrating for two days this year) Its going to be a special day. I will miss the gathering of friends and family and would prefer being with everyone over a day at the spa, but knowing that K and I are on vacation without a responsibility in the world sounds pretty magical as well. Perhaps, I will convince K to have a hula contest with me, it was a real hit when I turned 12. Twenty years later I think hula is still a great way to celebrate a birthday.

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birthdays in Africa…

Birthdays in Africa can be super great, but you just have to set your sights at being creative, and think out of the box. So when I was packing for Juba in January I decided to add a few things to help me make K’s up coming 30th birthday a bit more fun. I decided to make a cake mix, thinking that I would not be able to find anything close to a birthday cake. I was kind of right, there are actually a few options for cake and other sweets in Juba, but it is really expensive and to be honest it would not even come close to satisfy K’s sweet tooth. So bringing a chocolate cake mix was a genius idea. Well it was until I learned that the NP guesthouse, where we are living does not have an oven. But being determined to make K’s birthday super great and memorable I got a bit creative.

A week or so before K’s birthday a colleague of mine introduced me to a local Ugandan bakery that is right around the corner from our office. This bakery specializes in mendazi. These lovely raised dough balls are deep-fried, beautifully crispy on the outside and nice and fluffy on the inside. The bakery supplies several hotels so they are busy making hundreds of mendazi a day. The bakery also has a large oven where they bake bread and I noted this while I was given the tour of the bakery.

Now if you know me at all, you know that I secretly, or maybe not so secretly love to bake and dream about having my own bakery some day. So not only was I in heaven hanging out in the bakery but I was also thinking that perhaps these kind Ugandans would not mind letting me bake a small cake for my husband. So my coworker and I asked and they were very gracious and agreed to let me use the oven.

So let me paint a picture for you. A normal oven has a door and a number of dials to control the temperature. This oven however did not have those two things, which I normally think are vital for an oven. But I am always up for an adventure so no problem I just decided to wing it. The oven is close to the size of a small kitchen, and is powered by an open fire. Knowing that they bake bread in this oven, I estimated that the temp was at least 350F degrees and that the cake would take about 20 to 25 minutes. With that solved I only needed to work out a baking pan in which to bake the cake in.

K and I have been eating lunch locally at a restaurant a few blocks from our office, called, (I kid you not) My Local. We normally have an order of rice and beans and take half of it back to the office for the next day. It is a smoking good deal as we both can eat two meals for about five or six bucks. I cannot cook for less than that, and honestly it is really good. But these take-away boxes are flimsy metal trays with paper tops. A few nights before K’s birthday I was laying awake, listening to the loud dance music of our neighboring pool hall when I remembered these trays and thought they would be perfect. I would need two trays but I just happened to have two trays of left overs in the frig just waiting for me to use them.

The night before K’s birthday I sent him to our common room for an hour and quickly water-colored several pieces of paper to make a paper chain to decorate the front door of our room. It is all about the color and being creative in your decorating. If money and constant electricity were not an issue, there is a grocery store here in Juba that sells five-foot trees that light up on the tips, and I totally would have bought one, as it would have been a stellar decoration! Nothing screams happy 30th birthday like a fake tree that lights up.

The morning of the big day I woke up early and quietly snuck into the kitchen and whipped up a batch of French toast and surprised K with breakfast in bed. Growing up my Mom used to always give us breakfast in bed on our birthdays. I always remember it being super special and a great way to start your birthday. Breakfast was a hit, as well as the fun paper chain which I hung before I brought breakfast in. However, I’m short and didn’t have a chair or anything to stand on to hang the chain higher… so the lowest part of the chain actually came to K’s shoulder… we both had a good laugh about it.

The day flew by with meetings and the business of being in Juba, but I kept looking forward to my trip to the bakery. When the time finally came I quickly mixed the cake and poured the batter into two trays. I carefully walked around the corner and into the bakery, where I had 20 some Ugandan bakers waiting for me.

More to come…

sage advice…

“Could you give me some advice?” Came the question from across the pool in Cape Town, South Africa. I looked up from the book I was reading and saw that K was looking rather serious.

“You know cause you’ve been here and you are older and wiser.”

Now he was grinning but trying to keep it under wraps like he was being serious. On a normal day I wouldn’t generally take that from him but it was February 6th, K’s birthday. So happily I played along and said I would glad to impart wisdom to his young and inexperienced life.  I think there was some kind of wisecrack about my being experienced but that was beside the point. K always like to remind me that I’m older… and for the most part this doesn’t bother me, for the most part. But this idea of being wiser has been in my head for the last few days. So here you go K, your official advice for your 29th year of your life. Enjoy.

1)   Don’t buy cheap tuna… My mom told me this one and her reasoning was you don’t want to know what’s in the cheap cans. Sound advice if you ask me.

2)   It’s possible to find comfortable shoes that are cute… don’t settle for less.

3)   Learn to knit… seriously it’s addicting.

4)   If you don’t like a certain kind of food say you are allergic to it, no one ever pressures you to try something you are allergic to.

5)   Sing while you work… I would say whistle but we both know I can’t whistle to save my life.

6)   Write more letters.

7)   Color coordinate your books, oh wait I’ve already done that for you. Your welcome.

8)   Keep learning the message in Matthew 9:13

9)   A little bit of bleach goes a long ways.

10) Always try to try.

11) Plan for things to be harder than you imagine. (I’m still struggling with this one)

12) Always look to see if there are worms in your fruit before you eat it.

13) Do not wear the same color shirt and pants at the same time. Unless you are going to a white party or wearing black to make a statement.

14) Travel with a roll of toilet paper.

15) Have lots of adventures.

16) Everyone sweats, so don’t worry about it.

17) Be generous… not that you need to be told this.

18) Laugh a lot… cause it makes happy when you are.

19) Be spontaneous.

20) Buy something without checking the price… there is crazy freedom in it.

21) Tell the people you love that you love them.

22) Make lists.

23) Run for fun, not cause you feel like you have to.

24) Sing the wrong words to a song. (I dare you)

25) Take time to tinker.

26) Don’t be too hard on yourself. I know you are a firstborn but just try.

27) Dream big.

28) Know that sometimes its okay not to barder over twenty cents.

29) Keep car dancing, its my favorite.

Happy 29th birthday K. You are more than I could have ever imagined as a best friend and husband. Life with you just gets better and better.

Love your older and wiser wife.