Packing and travel

We’re using AGS Frasers as our moving service from Lusaka to Michigan, and boy are they good.  The wrap everything in cardboard, including tables, chairs, couches (as opposed to plastic) and triple wrap glassware.  The dogs are a little nervous and don’t let me out of my sight, despite my reassuring them that they’re coming with me this time.

Thom’s traveling with some friends to Brazil for his every three years Agricultural Economics convention.  One of them wrote about how her luggage was lost and then two hours later someone came up and sheepishly returned her suitcase, which he had mistook for his suitcase.  I know the feeling.  All of those black bags look the same.  About 15 years ago, in a fit of exasperation after yet another case of mistaken suitcase identity, I bought a can of yellow spray paint and came home and painted big huge happy faces on both sides of all of our luggage, no matter how new.  Now, we can always pick our suitcases out of a crowd and it makes me smile to see them.

Posted in About Zambia | 4 Comments

Long time no post…

Well, since I’ve last posted we’ve bought our dream home in Northwestern Michigan.  It’s on 27 acres, has a pond and a creek, and we’re looking forward to many years of homesteading.  The main house is the perfect size for us – a master bedroom on the main floor and then a basement apartment with a bedroom.


There’s an adorable guest cottage up on the hill.

The panoramic views are great now and will be spectacular in the fall when the leaves change colors.  We’re in a winery, foodie, fruit tree area of Michigan and about 2 miles from the coast of Lake Michigan.

There hasn’t been much going on in Lusaka, kind of boring actually.  Since May (when I lost my oomph for blogging) I’ve been having the feeling that it’s time for the vacation to end.  (You know the feeling, you’re on a great, wonderful, fantastic vacation but then at some point it gets old and you just want to go home.  That’s how I feel.)

Our time here in Lusaka doesn’t end until January 2013, but we had the movers come and pack things up this week so that our belongings will be back before winter, by December at the latest (since the original estimate they gave us was 3-4 months for shipping).  Well, you can imagine our shock yesterday when they told us our things will be back within 45-50 days!!  Instead of shipping the container via the overland route to Dar es Salaam, then up to Dubai, then back through the pirate-laden Gulf of Aden, then through the Mediterranean, and so forth, they’re using the (apparently) newly opened Walvis Bay port in Namibia.  (Actually, I think the port’s been there a while; maybe it’s the road that’s been improved?)  Anyways, now the container will be driven to Walvis Bay (closer than Dar) and then will head straight across the Atlantic. I know our stuff will be disappointed about not getting another around-the-world tour but maybe it’s tired of traveling too and just wants to go home?

So, as a result, I need to go back to Michigan immediately for a couple of months and get a barn built on our new property ASAP in order to accommodate all of our outdoor stuff.  (Before we thought we’d build the barn during our planned October visit, but now our stuff may arrive by then.)  We decided that I’ll take the dogs with me on this trip and then leave them there with family when I return to Lusaka.  By doing this they’ll have a chance to acclimate to Michigan and grow a winter coat, instead of being thrown into winter unprepared.

As you can imagine, I’ve had significant anxiety about getting the dogs home given our outbound experience, but we’re going KLM and after meeting with them and our vet today, as well as corresponding with people who used KLM, I’m feeling pretty good.  It’ll be a grueling 1.5 days but I can do anything for 1.5 days.  Prayers and good luck incantations would be appreciated!  I leave with the dogs next Tuesday, August 21, and arrive in Chicago (that’s the closest we could get to Michigan; my other choices were JFK-NY or Dulles-Wash DC) on Wednesday, August 22.  A friend’s son and his girlfriend is picking me and the dogs up and we’ll drive up to Lansing (about 4 hours).  I’ll spend the night there and then hopefully on Thursday, August 23, make the trek up to our new home, another 3 hours.

Hope you’ve all had a wonderful last couple of months!


Posted in About Zambia | 17 Comments

Microwave Water and Plant Experiment – Final Conclusions

The final results of the experiment are in.

The plants that did the best were those (a) in the hygrosoil (of course!), and, (b) those watered with microwave boiled water.

In the hygrosoil, both the microwave and stove-top boiled watered plants sprouted the fastest (3 and 3.5 days respectively) and grew the tallest.  As seen from this photo, the plants that did the very best were the ones watered with the microwave boiled water.

The superior performance of the microwave boiled water as compared to the stove-top boiled water was even more stark for the seeds planted in the compost soil.  Two out of three seeds germinated for the microwave condition but only one seed germinated for the stove-top boiled water condition.  Further, the seeds in the compost in the microwave condition germinated three full days before the stove top condition and grew faster and better (with more leaves).

Unfortunately, would you believe it, I didn’t get photos of this last condition and instead took two photos of the hygrosoil condition!  (Thom’s parents were visiting all last week so I was distracted and quickly took photos before we took the 6.5 hour local bus down to Livingstone.  Fun and interesting the first time but this being my second time, tiresome and grueling.)

In any case, when I started this experiment I fully thought the microwaved water would kill or harm the plants.  Instead, the plants did better!  I think the key was that I used ceramic/glass to boil the water whereas in the San Francisco experiment, she said they used plastic to boil the water (and putting anything hot in plastic causes nasty chemicals to leach into your food or beverage).

The pea plants are now safely planted out side.

Posted in About Zambia | 6 Comments

St. Mitch, Keeper of the Canines

Have I mentioned yet that my brother is a saint?  Not only has he worked nearly every day the past 30 years side-by-side my dad (just kidding dad 🙂 ), but he took charge of our 3-foot-tall 115 lb baby (aka Ozzie the Great Dane) when British Air barred him from entry onto the airplane to Lusaka 20 minutes before take-off (we were already on-board and seat-belted in).  On top of that, when BA also off-loaded our Westie-Poo without our knowledge, he went ballistic and demanded that that dog be on that flight, so emergency vehicles appeared at the dog cargo loading building, Buddy the Westie-Poo was loaded in an ambulance and made it to the plane, lights a-flashing.   My brother, bless his soul, didn’t even tell me this until 2-3 weeks later, but he knew that I would have been heartbroken to have not one but both dogs fail to meet us in Zambia.

His most recent act of sainthood (along with St. Terri, his wife of 25 years), was to offer to take care of Alex’s dogs for two weeks while Alex visited his fiancee.  This was no small offer – Kala is a 125 lb snorty curious bulldozer of a Rottweiler and Sasha is a hyper mini-me West Indies island mutt version of Kala who chews everything in sight.

We had always had dogs when we were small children, but as we got older we really started to accumulate the zoo – horses (Brandy & Spike), goats (Romeo & Juliet, Sugar & Spice), a sheep (can’t remember its name but it was the stupidest thing ever), pigs (Cowabunga & Conrad), cats (Alfie + many others), turkeys, chickens, and so forth. (We never had a cow, oh, how I want a cow!)  This created a love of animals for both Mitch and I.  Mitch and Terri’s hilltop home attracts hundreds of hummingbirds, who though they are territorial, all manage to coexist in their backyard Eden.

Do they have a way with hummingbirds or what?  Further, Mitch can’t bear to kill even nuisance animals, so when he had a rat problem he would trap them, and on his way to work from his Riverside County home into Orange County (known for being a little snooty and pretentious), he would pull off into some affluent neighborhood and turn them loose.  What else was he to do with them?  He couldn’t kill them and he didn’t want to drop them in the barrio or citrus orchards.  Let some OC multi-millionaire deal with them, he thought.

Anyways, when Mitch and Terri found out it was going to cost Alex $800 to board his dogs they volunteered to take care of them.  Now, in my opinion, anything over two dogs is too many.  Two dogs are nice.  They keep each other company.  More than that and they form factions, spin out of control, egg each other on to chew or wander deeper into the woods.  At one time I was baby sitting five dogs.

Ozzie the Great Dane and Buddy the little white dog were ours, Alex’s dogs were Kala the Rottweiler and Luke the husky, and Daisy the golden retriever was a housesitting friend of ours.  Arghhhhh.  What a zoo.  They killed a possum right in front of me in a feeding frenzy.  Kala and Ozzie together began to wander off the property, deep into the woods.  The front door broke because the ill-mannered beasts all tried to squeeze out at the same time.  Like I said, five dogs is three too many.

But, Mitch and Terri didn’t know this.  They were used to their three cats and their tea-cup-poodle-trapped-in-a-Great-Dane-body Ozzie.  When asked my brother even said, “It’ll be fun! Ozzie will like having someone to play with.”  Uh-huh, I thought.

The warning signs started immediately.  Kala became very protective of Sasha and would snap at Ozzie.  Sasha chewed her way through every room in the house.  Ozzie became territorial and anxious.  Terri said, “It was a blitzkrieg the first afternoon!”  (What exactly is a blitzkrieg I thought?  “Lightning war…concentrating overwhelming force at high speed to break through enemy lines…”  Yup.  That sounds about right.)

But, Mitch and Terri are smart cookies.  They quickly created a “playpen” area for the two interlopers by clearing out a spare bedroom and putting in toys, chew bones, doggy beds, food and water.  Then, they put one of their webcams in the room so they could monitor the dogs while they were at work.  The puppies looked pretty happy.  (They sent the links to Alex and I so we could check in on them too.)

Terri only works half day so she’d come home around noon and let the dogs out back.  Kala and Sasha, having lived the past two years on a remote island in the West Indies, would do their business and promptly jump in the pool.  (Mitch put a webcam on this too so we could watch the action.)  Mitch and Terri spent one Saturday afternoon throwing Kala’s yellow ball into the pool and watching her retrieve it.  (If you look hard in this photo Sasha’s standing up in Terri’s lap getting petted; she’s in the middle of the photo.)

On Monday this week Mitch sent me their daily spa camp schedule:

12:30 PM             Lunch –  tender rabbit vittles w/ country gravy, steamed long grain rice, golden baked potatoes (all blended up for easy chew).

1:00 PM                Pool –  relaxation and cooling off in the shallow end; chase yellow squeak ball.

3:00 PM                Rejuvenation – roll in the side yard planter for cleansing mud roll followed by grass scratching therapy.

4:00 PM                Sensory stimulation – lay in shade, observe birds, squirrels. Give chase if urge overwhelming.

6:00 PM                Pool – round two of pool time; bedtime clean-up.

6:30 PM                Intellectual stimulation – Animal Planet on TV; in house sofa time.

7:30 PM                Story time – Good Dog Carl and Scooby-Doo.

8:30 PM                Bedtime – Obedience quiz; evening prayers.

In case you’re wondering where Ozzie is while Terri’s at work, well, he gets special treatment.  He gets to sleep up on the couch and have free reign of the house.  (I think mommy and daddy are playing favorites.)

There’s a nine-hour difference between Lusaka and California, so often when I get up in the morning, the first thing I do is check on the puppies.  Don’t they look happy?

Alex comes home tomorrow so life will return to normal for Mitch and Terri.  A  humongous(!) ginormous(!!) Himalayan-size(!!!) THANK YOU to them both for taking care of Alex’s dogs for two weeks.

Posted in Dogs | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

Internet Dangers for Information Junkies

The internet is a dangerous place for information junkies like me.  How can you tell if you’re in the presence of an information junkie?  Easy.  Just ask a seemingly innocuous question for which they (and you) don’t know the answer and watch them run off to the computer.  It’s especially useful to do this if you want 5-6 hours to yourself and you’re not quite sure how to get rid of your partner/friend/child/coworker.

Information junkies just can’t answer the original question, because that question begats another question which begats another question, and the junkie has to get answers to them all, and this takes time because they have to compare at least four or five sites’ answers to see which answer is really true (or, if you’re me, which answer they understand).

For example, the other day someone innocently asked me, “What causes a double rainbow?” Before they could point out said rainbow, whoosh, I was at my computer trying to find the answer.

Okay, you’re probably wondering if you’re an information junkie.  You’re not if you can resist knowing what causes a double rainbow (answer in detail below) or if you’ve already moved on to TMZ or the weather channel.  You might be an information junkie if you continue reading below but that’s only because my answer is so short and more importantly, has a picture.  You most definitely are an information junkie if you further research the subject.  If you post further links as to details about rainbows in the comments section of this post, you’re in greater need of psychological help than even me.

Answer:  Whether you see a single or double rainbow is due to the angle of the sun behind you hitting water droplets ahead of you.  Single rainbows appear at an angle of 40-42°.  Double rainbows, which are reflecting additional sunlight inside the raindrops, appear at an angle of 50–53°.  (See this.)  Pretty cool, huh?  I never realized before that the sun had to be behind you for you to see a rainbow.

Oh, and did you know that in double rainbows the colors are reversed?  When there is a double rainbow, the top rainbow is the reflection of the bottom rainbow, so red is always the middle color.  In single rainbows red is always the top color and violet the bottom color.  In doubles, the upper rainbow always has red as the bottom color and violet as the top color.  And wow, I just realized that the fainter rainbow in a double is always on top because of the higher angle of reflection.  I never noticed that before either.

Okay, so now you’re saying to yourself, I’ve gotta see a picture of this or I won’t be able to sleep or eat or have s..  er . . . have a soda, yes, or have a soda.

I understand, here you go…

Now, aren’t you a better person for knowing this?  🙂

Posted in About Zambia | Tagged , | 8 Comments

Day 10 – Microwave Experiment

Inexplicably, the seeds planted with the microwave boiled water, as opposed to the stove-top boiled water, continue to race ahead in germination and growth.  I was getting worried about the compost soil watered with stove-top boiled water because nothing was germinating.  I thought it would be nearly (statistically) impossible for all three seeds in that single container to fail, compared to the seeds in the other three containers which were all growing in some shape or form.

Well, finally, on Day 10, one seed has sprouted in the compost soil watered with boiled water.  Actually, this seed is the only one that germinated right on schedule, exactly when the seed packet said it would.  (Seed germination was supposed to occur within 8-12 days.)

But look at the difference in growth between the two pots!  In the composted soil, the seeds in the pot watered with microwave boiled water sprouted a full three days ahead of the seeds watered with stove-top boiled water.  I wonder why?  Could the microwave be purifying the water more?  If you know why please let me know.

For the hygrosoil pots, the plants watered with microwave boiled water continue to maintain their early germination and growth compared to the plants watered with stove-top boiled water.

If you would have told me when I started this experiment that the seeds watered with microwave boiled water would clearly and starkly outpace the seeds watered with stove-top boiled water, I would never have believed it.  We only use our microwave for heating leftovers (especially things hard to reheat stove-top like lasagna) and before I always felt a little hesitant to use it.  I now feel a little more comfortable about it, though I have no plans on ever really “cooking” with the microwave.

One comment about the hygrosoil.  Clearly, one can see the spectacular advantage the hygrosoil offers plants and seeds compared to compost soil (which is supposed to be far better than regular soil!).  However, I’m really not in favor of using chemical-based fertilizer or soil mixes because over time they can really damage your garden and adjacent areas due to build-up of some minerals (like salt) and chemicals, and leeching of others.  As is the case with most chemical fertilizers, once you start using them you need to continue using them (thereby creating and maintaining a market for the product) or else plan on 3-5 years to get your soil nurtured back into good health with compost, mulch and other organic matter.

The only reason I used hygrosoil here is that I knew the composition of the soil would be a controlled and sterile medium in which I could vary only a single variable in an experiment (in this case, the single variable was type of water; everything else was held constant).

Comparing hygrosoil to the compost, I was very happy to see that the compost soil sprouted a couple of pea seeds ahead of schedule on Day 7 (in the microwave-boiled water condition only).  This tells me that with good soil I can grow crops just as strong and healthy as chemically-fertilized crops, I just have to be a little more patient.  And who knows what would have happened with fully composted soil?  The compost used in the photo above was composted “enough” for planting, meaning it smelled fresh and good like garden soil should.  However, the organic matter hadn’t completely broken down yet because I wanted to place it at the bottom of an 8 inch trench with garden soil on top, in order to let the last bit of bacterial magic occur under the layer of the top soil (this releases even more nutrients for your plants over time).

In any case, I really am interested in your thoughts as to why the microwave boiled water condition produced far superior results compared to the stove-top boiled water condition – even across two types of soil?!

Posted in About Zambia | 17 Comments

Update on the Microwave Experiment

Whoa! Some people really (really!) do not like (not even a teeny weeny little bit!) microwaves. Forget politics or religion, if you want to stir up trouble at your next holiday dinner, just say, “I think microwaves are safe and don’t kill the nutrients in food,” then scoot back your chair and watch the (food) fight ensue.

I had shared the previous post about the experiment with some friends privately and on Facebook.  Boy, did I get hate mail!  Friends of my friends (my friends are too polite to call me names and yell at me IN ALL CAPS) were pretty vehement in their dislike of microwaves and FIRMLY BELIEVED THEY LEAD TO DEATH AND DESTRUCTION of anything that comes near them.  They also flooded me with evidence from studies conducted in the 1970s.

Actually, I was in their camp.  After seeing that Facebook post I spoke of yesterday (with the pruned plants) I was all ready to give up microwaves for good.  But, they’re so convenient, especially for heating leftovers (especially when you’re in an environment with frequent power outages but have a generator that can still run your microwave but not your electric stove), so I thought I’d test it myself.  If my experiment (without plastic containers) got the same results as this little schoolgirl’s did, then I was ready to kiss the microwave goodbye and eat cold leftovers.  So, you can imagine my surprise at my results, at the Consumer Reports on Health‘s results, and at the Consumer Reports lab results (on vegetable nutrients)!

Anyways, here are Day 7’s results.  Would you believe that for the seeds planted in the compost, only the seeds watered with microwave boiled water have sprouted, but not the seeds watered with stove-top boiled water?!  These results are identical to the hygrosoil results (the microwave boiled water seed sprouted first)!  Consistent results are pretty compelling to me – in both types of soil the seeds watered with microwave boiled water sprouted first.  I don’t know about you but it makes me feel a lot better about microwaving.  (And, friends of my friends of my friends, I admit I could be fully delusional or wrong.  Please do the experiment yourself – I’d be curious to see your results.)

Here are the hygrosoil results.  As you can see, the seeds watered with microwave boiled water are growing faster than the seeds watered with stove-top boiled water.

And here are the compost soil results.  As you can see, the seeds watered with stove-top boiled water have yet to sprout, yet two of three seeds watered with microwave boiled water have sprouted.

Pretty interesting, huh?

Posted in Gardening | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments