Pumpkin Honey Bread

This is one of my favorite fall recipes. We don’t carve pumpkins here and the majority of pumpkins are green, not orange. We also can’t find canned pumpkin. So, either in the market, at a vegetable stand, or in the grocery store, I buy pumpkin by the kilo. The vendor uses a machete-like knife to slice off the amount I want, then wraps it in plastic. I bring it home, chop it up some more and either roast it for hours and hours in the oven, or boil it on the stove top.

Personally, I don’t like flipping through a bunch of photos just to get to a recipe. I know what eggs look like. I know what piles of ingredients look like. I know what flour is. Get to it, please, is how I feel when I have to scroll through a ton of images, no matter how lovely they are. So, with no further ado, here is the recipe.

Pumpkin Honey Bread

Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease two bread pans

3 cups fresh pumpkin puree (roasted or boiled and mashed and if you add more than 3 cups, no problem, I eyeball it)

4-5 eggs (in Djibouti our eggs are quite small so I go with 5, clean off the feathers)

1 cup oil (I like to use 1/2 cup oil and 1/2 cup applesauce)

2/3 cup water

2 2/3 cups sugar (I cut out the 2/3 cup, this isn’t cake, people. And I use some honey, too. So I tend to go 1 cup white sugar, 1/2 cup brown sugar, and 1/2 cup honey)

Mix these ingredients together until well blended. Mix:

3 1/2 cup flour (or 2 1/2 cup white flour, 1 cup wheat flour)

2 tsp baking soda

1 1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp nutmeg (you can buy fresh nutmegs in the market here and grind them at home. If you buy a lot, the vendors will giggle, it is viewed as an aphrodisiac)

1 tsp ground cloves

1/4 tsp ginger

Add the wet ingredients to dry ingredients and mix just until blended. Pour into the pans.

Bake 45-50 minutes

Enjoy with butter, maple butter, plain, sprinkled with chopped walnuts, or toasted.

For more recipes like this (using locally available ingredients or modifications), check out the Djiboutilicious Cookbook.

*flickr

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Dear Expat Friends

Quick link: To My Expat Friends

Yesterday I wrote what is essentially a love letter to my expatriate friends for A Life Overseas (and this totally includes online expatriate friends I have yet to meet face to face). They have scattered all over the world, some I am still in touch with and others, not so much. But all of them hold a special place in my heart and my memory. Some carried me through childbirth abroad, others through loss. Some trusted me to care for their children or pets. We rely on each other in unique ways that leave us vulnerable.

I don’t want to close myself off to all that these new, sometimes too short, friendships bring. That’s hard. With all the hello’s and the goodbye’s, it is tempting to be cold and distant. But I need these friends and I hope I can be the kind of friend I need, as well.

When I say my husband and I are arguing about packing suitcases and that my back hurts, you know what I mean. You’ve also slammed doors and said things you regret because peanut butter weighs a lot and tennis rackets don’t quite fit. Thanks for letting me vent.

You aren’t afraid of dengue fever, typhoid, or malaria. You’ve been vaccinated and have that little yellow card and your kids have the BCG scar on their upper arms. You aren’t grossed out when I mention that we deworm our entire family twice a year. Thanks for helping me feel normal, healthy even.

When I’m broken about the poverty I see and conflicted about how to respond to beggars and barely able to hold all my spiritual questions, you’ve carried it with me, and helped me process. Thank you for sharing your own messy insides…

Click here to read the rest: To My Expat Friends

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To My Boarding School Birthday Girl

Dear Birthday Girl,

We did the whole cake, ice cream, candles, and gifts party before we left the United States. But it wasn’t really your birthday that day. On your real birthday, your sister will hand you a wrapped shoe box full of tiny gifts, each individually wrapped. Your dorm parents have a plan. The school has goofy birthday traditions. Dad and I will call you on the phone. We’ll sing the regular birthday song and our own song, the one that’s just for you.

I’m so thankful that you will be celebrated by people all over the world. I’ve seen how people at this school honor and celebrate kids when their parents are far away. I’ve seen moms Face-timing with moms on the other side of the continent during soccer games and banquets. I’ve delivered birthday packages and hugs on behalf of absent parents. You are loved by so many by being part of this particular community. It takes a tribe and you are in the best of tribes. Knowing this, reminding myself of it, is my gift to myself on your birthday.

Because, though thankful, I’m still sad. I’m learning to hold both grief and joy in the same hand, to feel both sadness and gratitude, to sit with loss and celebration.

On the real day, you will be far away from me and I won’t be able to hug you or measure your height against my own to see whether you’ve caught me yet. I won’t be able to tickle your side or run my fingers through your hair.

This is the first birthday any of you have been away from me. Your brother and sister’s birthday is in July and they are home that month. So we haven’t done this before, haven’t missed this day before, haven’t relied on other people to celebrate you.

I know you know how much I love you, how proud I am of you. You get tired of me saying it and demand specifics in ways that both flabbergast and thrill me. What, specifically, do I love about you? Why, specifically, in this moment, am I proud of you? The answers to those questions are for me and you, for another time. But I still need to say those words: love and proud, on this day.

You are our 9/11 baby, born a blessing on a day of mourning. We named you Light. We named you Gift. We named you Victory. We named you Ours. You continue to live out these names, filling them up and redefining them through the lens of your own character, talents, and personality.

You are the biggest risk I ever took, ever jumped into intentionally. I was afraid of so many things. Afraid of more than one baby again (though that was the other greatest adventure of my life). Afraid to be pregnant here. Afraid to give birth here. Afraid I wouldn’t be mom enough for all of you. Afraid of postpartum depression again. Afraid of sleepless nights and rage. Afraid of morning sickness and changes to my body. Afraid of how much love I already knew would hurricane through me as soon as we touched outside my body.

Now I think, what if we hadn’t taken that leap? What if I let fear dominate and closed myself off to all the possibilities that are you? I’m learning to acknowledge the fears and to walk through them. You’ve helped me do that.

I can’t let my fear of who I might be when I’m not with you restrict you.

All these years after that 9/11 when you were born, I’m celebrating who you are and I’m saying, go be you.

Be you, where you are. Be you, apart from me. Be you, without fear or anxiety or strings attached. Be you, with exuberance, abandon, power and delight.

Be you with your crazy laugh and your mismatched socks and your uncle’s college band t-shirt. Be you with your full body singing and no fear in sports. Be you with your love for sunrises and bird-watching and your dog-training skills. Be you with your love for creating and your loyalty and courage. Be you in all the ways I will treasure in my heart, just for me.

Happy birthday from far away. Live it wild.

***

Tips for parents celebrating birthdays from far away:

  1. Celebrate when you’re together. Early or late, doesn’t matter.
  2. Send a surprise package, either in the mail or with someone else to hand deliver.
  3. Have a distance-friendly tradition, like a goofy song to sing over the phone, or a photo tradition.
  4. Ask someone who lives nearby to bring a cake or gift or to deliver pizza to their entire dorm.
  5. Tell the people around you and around the birthday person, so they can celebrate with you and with the birthday person.
  6. Schedule a phone call ahead of time.
  7. If you have a traditional meal, ask someone to make it for them on your behalf.
  8. Be thankful for the global community who loves you and your birthday person.

***

Our 9/11 baby, other stories:

Back when I was a regular contributor at Babble, I wrote about my daughter’s birth on the anniversary of 9/11. I also wrote about it for the Modern Love column, read by Mireille Enos for the podcast last spring.

Podcast

Modern Love

Babble

 

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Vision Therapy

Quick link: Uncovering Vision

This essay was posted at Mothers Always Write over a month ago and I missed it. The editors didn’t inform me the link was live and life took over and I didn’t check in on it. So, here it is several weeks later. Our journey to help my daughter see clearly.

My son read The Lord of the Rings when he was nine years old. Henry said he didn’t understand all the words but he could recall the storyline in detail. His twin sister Maggie read the first two Harry Potter books but when asked simple questions about plot and character, confessed she had simply turned the pages.

I fought against the inevitable comparing that comes with parenting twins but we live in Djibouti in the Horn of Africa and at the time there was not one single other American, native-English speaking 9-year old in the country. I was forced to compare my two. Forced to acknowledge a gaping difference in their reading abilities.

My myopic vision of what a child should be capable of blinded me to Maggie’s unique challenges.

Click here to read what we learned about Vision Therapy: Uncovering Vision

 

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Arrive, Survive, and Thrive in Djibouti

I get emails nearly every day from people coming to Djibouti either as tourists or to live and work. They need to know how to find a house, where are decent hotels, what should they do in a medical emergency? Are there playgrounds? What are the best school options?

I’ve compiled answers to these questions and so much more, in this e-book Welcome to Djibouti.

Phone numbers, websites, email addresses, tips and suggestions…you’ll find what you need here.