Tuesday, February 2, 2016

On family

All photos from This Rad Love during a November 2015 photo session
It's the beginning of February, which next to October and November, is my favorite month of the year. Winter is melting away from our front yard. The blizzard temperatures of last week have given way to winds that don't bite my hands as I ride my scooter to work. 

The beginning of this month also feels like the new year to me. In January, our little family returned from a trip to Guinea to visit Abdoulaye's family. It was my first time back since our visit in 2012 and so much has changed since then. Not only with our family - we got married, bought a house, had a baby, changed jobs, finished grad school (me), started grad school (Abdoulaye) - but also in Guinea. 
 When I was in Guinea in 2012, Abdoulaye's family had electricity every other day for a few hours at a time. During this visit, the power only went out for no more than 15-30 minutes a couple times (thanks to the completion of this hydro-electric dam).

It's incredible what a difference consistent electricity makes (understatement, I know). It meant sleeping was better because we had fans on all night. It meant we had water for cooking and cleaning whenever we needed it because the pump that fills the cistern down the block was continually being filled. It meant our phones and cameras and computers were always charged. It meant Abodulaye's siblings could work on their homework after the sun went down without having to crowd around a lamp or, worse yet, not do it all. 

 We came back the first week of January and since then work and life has been on overdrive. It's only in the past couple days where I feel I've caught my breath and been able to have a few moments to reflect on 2015 and give thought to the year ahead. I am feeling so grateful for this life I'm living and the people in it who are making every day better than the one before. Can you tell someone has gotten some good sleep the past couple of nights??

I was rocking Lillie Foulé to sleep tonight, holding her close as she hummed herself to sleep. As I watched her chest rise and fall, her little fingers grasping at the thin skin of my hand, I started thinking, as I have many times before, about the groove in the top corner of our mattress. I've sat in that same corner so many nights over the past 14 months in the same position - the only thing changing being the size of my baby and the subtle sinking of the mattress. 

I'm grateful for nights like tonight where LF falls asleep early enough for me to have a few moments to myself before I feel so tired that it's hard to find the strength to brush my teeth. I am grateful to have the time to actually download our family photos and look through them again. All I need is one more night like this to order prints and/or a photo book - something that's perpetually on my mental to-do list.

All photos by the marvelously talented Sarah Williams from This Rad Love.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Peanut Butter Sauce à la Bangoura, Tigedegena cook-off!

This is how we look after eating lots of peanut butter sauce - one happy family!
March 1-7 was Peace Corps Week and our friend Veronique (Mali RPCV) hosted a peanut butter cook-off to celebrate! As I wrote last week, I'm still honing my West African cooking skills but after this sauce, Abdoulaye thinks I've graduated to be able to take on the sauce alone (almost!). This really is a delicious sauce that anyone who likes peanut butter would enjoy. 

Since I'm a visual learner, here's our recipe in pictures (and words) below: 
Ingredients (amounts are variable!) pictured above and below:
Serves 6-8
Garlic (as you like)
Onion (one will do)
Green onions (three stalks)
Eggplant (1/2 of a medium one)
Potatoes (as many as you like)
Carrots (heavy handful)
Tomatoes (three works!)
Peanut butter (freshly ground, about 1/3 pound here)
Tomato paste (3 oz)
Red pepper flakes to your liking.
Chicken (5 or 6 drumsticks/meat of your choice)
Mustard, salt & pepper - for seasoning chicken and veggies
Vegetable oil (fill the bottom of the pot)
Rice - as much as you need to feed your people!

All your veggies chopped up. 
Eggplant thinly sliced for frying

  1. Chop all the veggies (except for eggplant!) and put in bowl. Add red pepper flakes to your liking. 
  2. Coat bottom of pot with vegetable oil. Make it hot! Slice eggplant for frying and get to it.
  3. Season chicken with mustard, salt & pepper.
  4. Fry eggplant and then purée, hold on the side.
  5. Fry chicken.
  6. Add in all the veggies (including puréed eggplant) & tomato paste and stir around. 
  7. Cover for 10 minutes to get the juices going. The veggies should provide enough liquid for things to not burn.
  8. Add hot water to peanut butter (maybe two or three cups). Stir and let 'rest' so nubby pieces fall to the bottom. You don't want a grainy sauce!
  9. Add in peanut butter water. Keep adding hot water to the peanut butter 'sediment' to shake out the real peanut butter while leaving the gritty parts on the bottom. Add enough water to the pot to cover your sauce ingredients. Cover and stir every now and again!

This much peanut butter
Add hot water and let peanut butter 'rest'
Stir to shake up the peanut butter. You want the little nubs in the middle (hypocotyls and radicles!) to sink to the bottom
Chicken seasoned with mustard, salt and pepper. 
After frying eggplant, blend!
Mmm, pureed eggplant.
Uninterested baby still in her nightgown nearby helps keep the kitchen cute. 
Those are some good names.
Make sure to add a room full of hungry RPCVs and partners! Everyone is excited to try all the sauces! 
Here's my plate with all the sauces and the voting mechanism behind (put a bean in the cup with your favorite sauce's name)

 **If you're looking for another great recipe, Cassie has a fantastic how-to for peanut butter sauce on her blog from when she was in Mali.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Hyattsville, MD and Mali converge once again

Mali RPCVs: me (2008-12) with Bill Gardiner (1985-87) and our daughters (future PCVs 2036-38)

Just when I thought Mali couldn't get any closer to Hyattsville, MD, Peace Corps Week 2015 proved me wrong. Inspired by a fellow Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV) who is hosting a Malian-food cooking competition later this week, I decided to reach out to my Hyattsville neighbors through the H.O.P.E in Hyattsville listserv (essential to join if you're moving to the city) to invite folks to try Abdoulaye's and my cooking (and to test out our recipe!). I sent out the email a week before and had about 15 people reach out to say they would like to come and try some peanut butter sauce - perfect! Many were RPCVs themselves (Ukraine, Honduras, Ecuador, Benin and Mali) but some just wanted to try Mali's cuisine from the comfort of their own neighborhood!

I served in Mali with the Peace Corps from 2008-2012 in both the education and environment sectors and lived in the Segou region and then in the capital, Bamako. You can read more about my time in Mali on the blog I kept while living, working and loving there! While I spent a lot of time eating Malian food as a Peace Corps Volunteer, I did not spend as much time learning to prepare it. Thankfully, Abdoulaye is a seasoned chef and under his direction we were able to put together a delicious sauce for our new friends. My friend Nicole (RPCV Benin, with her sleeping 2 month old baby boy nearby) was an excellent sous-chef as well chopping potatoes, carrots and tomatoes like a pro.

As our neighbors began to arrive, I could feel myself smiling from the inside. How wonderful that even from thousands of miles away I can still feel Mali so close to me? I think about West Africa on a close to daily basis since Abdoulaye is from Guinea and all of his family is still there, but it's still nice to get the chance to talk about my experience abroad with my neighbors here in the US!

I asked folks to come from 5-8 to test out our cooking and there was a nice flow of people arriving. I loved getting the chance to talk with some neighbors I've met before but haven't had a chance to chat with as much and then learning more about other neighbors I had never met at all.

One neighbor was Bill Gardiner, the first to reply to my call for guinea pigs for our taste-testing. He told me in his email that he was a Mali RPCV (1985-87) and had also had a little girl just a few weeks before Lillie Foulé. How neat! When he arrived we started chatting and I learned more about where he served in Mali and that he was traveling in Burkina Faso following his service when Thomas Sankara was overthrown in a coup d'état and killed. Yikes! As we were talking, our friend Edouard Haba asked how I knew Bill and I said I had just met him. Edouard (a Hyattsville city council member) told me Bill is the former mayor of Hyattsville. Incredible!

As Abdoulaye and I cleaned up, we talked about the conversations we had with our neighbors. I told him about Bill's background and we marveled at another conversation with a woman (Honduras RPCV) who works in research for synthetic organs! When we moved to Hyattsville in 2013 we wanted to find a place, within our budget, that was close to Washington, DC for work and education opportunities. I tend to wax poetic but we truly have found so much more since moving here and settling in. Abdoulaye enjoyed learning about Bill's background and said how great it is that the former leader of our city had lived in West Africa and could relate to its diverse population from his own experience. I'm just tickled at how small the RPCV community is - and how Mali seems to find a way into my life no matter the situation!
Lillie Foulé loved meeting her new neighbors - she was pooped afterwards and slept great! 

Saturday, February 21, 2015

From Mali to Maryland: Shea Radiance is everywhere!

Photo from the Global Shea Conference in 2010
In March 2010 I attended a global shea conference held in Bamako, Mali (hosted by the West Africa Trade Hub and the Global Shea Alliance). One woman I met during the conference was Funlayo Alabi who owns a shea butter business called Shea Radiance. I was excited to meet her because my host mom, Annie, and I spent a lot of time talking about shea butter - from how to make it to how to sell it to how to use it. 

After I learned more about her product line, Funlayo and I started talking about our origins and she told me she was from Nigeria. She asked me where I was from and I said Virginia Beach, VA. Now how many people do you think have heard of Virginia Beach outside of the United States? Or even outside of Virginia? Funlayo had not only heard of Virginia Beach, she had lived there! She told me that she received a degree from Regent University and that now she was based out of Maryland and traveling back and forth to West Africa for her shea business. I thought, wow, what are the odds that at this conference in Mali I would meet someone from Sub-Saharan Africa who had not only heard of my hometown, but had lived in it?

Flash forward five years later. I left Mali. I got married (twice!). Abdoulaye and I bought a house in Hyattsville, Maryland and we had a baby! Our baby girl is what brings me to this blog post today. While Abdoulaye and I share many of our parenting ideals, there are a number of ways we're approaching this new adventure that are different simply because of where we grew up. And while I love shea butter as much as the next Returned (Environmental) Peace Corps Volunteer, I hadn't considered it as a staple for my baby's medicine cabinet.
Keeping my baby's nose clean since 2015
Abdoulaye, on the other hand, saw shea butter as a non-negotiable and so I began my search for some. But I didn't want just any shea butter - I wanted the good stuff. No additives. No perfumes. No chemicals. No words I couldn't pronounce. All those requirements led me to Yes! Organic Market in downtown Hyattsville, a short walk from our home. While searching the aisles, I found what I was looking for and picked up a small tub. I looked at the label to make sure it was 100% shea butter and imagine my surprise when I saw the name of the brand, Shea Radiance, Funlaylo’s company! I made a noise to match my surprise and told a man who worked at the grocery store standing nearby the story of how I had met the owner of the company. He nodded and said, oh you know Funlayo? I said, do you know Funlayo?? He nodded his head and kept going on with his business - I kept standing there letting my head shake with my jaw dropped.
The face of a happy shea butter baby
From Mali to Maryland - it looks like shea butter is here to stay in my life and I couldn't be happier!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Butterfly Baby

Our little girl is just over 12 weeks and filling out her rolls a little bit more every day. We're still adjusting to our new sleep schedule (Lillie Foulé is, too, it seems) but a flexible work schedule for Abdoulaye and a long maternity leave for me are making it all doable. I'm thankful to be settled in Hyattsville for a spell after a number of trips along the East Coast and grateful for our warm home on snowy days like today.

I've been looking back at blogposts from my time in Mali - including ones from when Abdoulaye and I were dating - and I can't help but shake my head at all that's happened in the past few years. I wake up in the morning to this little cinnamon roll who is smiling at me with her gummy grin and I feel this swelling of my heart. Don't get me wrong, her fussy spells - and she definitely has them! - can be exhausting and draining. But when she snuggles her head into the crook of my left arm or sees me smiling at her and then smiles back at me and sometimes gives me a laugh, I get a boost and a little baby high. 

In the past few days, Lillie Foulé has started to grab onto things with some real force - her little fingers curling tightly around toy rings or, when it's within reach, my poor hair. She's still sleeping in her bunny bed/co-sleeper and not loving the crib but at least she's sleeping! Bath times are a highlight of the day as Abdoulaye gets the lint out of her crevices and I smile on as he goes through the parts of the body in Susu. 

As I write, LF is waking up from a long nap. Her little hands are stretching up and over her head and she's figuring out how to stick her fingers in her mouth with her eyes shut and little toes kicking out of the bottom of her blanket. If there's one thing EVERY parent says to me, it's that these moments don't last forever and to cherish them while they're here. I'm going to give my butterfly baby a snuggle and do just that.

sweet headband from Grandmother Shellnutt

rolls for days

Monday, February 2, 2015

9 states (and the District!) before turning 9 weeks

In between grabbing cloth inserts for her diapers and giving Abdoulaye kisses goodbye, we were able to snap a few eight week pictures. Our little bunny is growing! After returning from our trip down the Eastern Seaboard, Lillie Foulé and I had a couple days to hang in Hyattsville before my mom drove up to our home and then flew with us to Memphis, TN en route to Tupelo, MS to see my cousin! 

While it was a quick turnaround, I'm also aware that this is a unique time in our life - it won't be this easy to travel with her ever again! Of course, people have varying opinions when I tell them about our travels. Some say 'I could never do that!' and others say 'Do it while you can!' Thankfully (for me and the other passengers on the planes we've been on), Lillie Foulé is a great little traveler and snoozed through the take-off and landing for all of our plane trips thus far. 
Lillie Foulé loves Mississippi and maroon does look quite nice on her
 Waiting for us at the gate were my cousin, Martha, and her sweet husband, Matt. I'm lucky to have a cousin like her since we not only share blood & kin :) but also interests. She's got a pretty super sister, too - I loved reminiscing by checking out her wedding post from 2012 (!!).  Coincidentally, the last time I was in Mississippi was in 2008 for Matt & Martha's nuptials! Mom and I were way overdue for a visit.
Not sure if the sound hole is actually for a face but Lillie Foulé's fits perfectly!
When we arrived, Matt & Martha were waiting for us at the gate and then drove us directly to their gorgeous home about an hour and some change away. After getting acquainted with their pups, we snuggled right into relaxing on their couches and that's where we stayed for the long weekend - delightful! While LF and I have been moving around a lot, we've also been relaxing once we get to where we're going - and that's been great. Martha spoiled us with homemade meals (including cinnamon rolls ohmahgoodnessss!) and is the ultimate hostess with bathrooms filled with all the products (full-size I might add) you may have forgotten at home. I felt like a queen with a double-sink vanity to myself!
We all have the same nose! I love this picture even with the countertop in the foreground. 
When we ventured out of the house on Sunday, we went to Bishop's BBQ, which was divine, and then (after some retail therapy) went to Bop's Frozen Custard. After getting my oreo malt, I attempted to engage the high school student manning the cash register in a conversation just to hear his sweet southern accent. Oh Mississippi.
Then we headed to Elvis' birthplace and Martha took my new favorite picture of my mom, LF and me in front of the house he was born in that was built by his father. We got there too late to tour the museum but had fun wandering around outside before the cold sent us back into the car and home for more Gilmore Girls.
Thank you very much.

Sweet, sweet photo taken by Martha. 
On our way to the airport we stopped in at Lost Pizza, Co. for our last Tupelo meal of the trip - we weren't disappointed! Mom and I shared the Happy Hippie pizza (like a mediterranean) as we reminisced about our trip with our favorite Mississippians. With a direct flight to Memphis, I hope our next visit to Tupelo won't be so far away!
Sunset in Memphis (trying to wear her out before the flight to avoid a fussy bedtime like she'd been having - it worked!) 
As for traveling with my little dumpling (at 8 weeks), the Ergo carrier was a must for us and I just needed to stay hydrated and fed so I could feed her. I also loved the snap n' go stroller for her car seat - it makes moving around the airport a breeze when I can't hold her!
Airport diaper change - Granne is so talented!
More pictures from our trip here!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Traveling the Eastern Seaboard

Today Lillie Foulé is two months old. Oh my! It's been a whirlwind since she came and at the same time one of the most relaxing times of my life. Today is the first day I've been alone with my girl since I had her - pretty incredible! Up until now I've either been with family on a trip or had family or a friend staying with me. Of course, Abdoulaye is always here and it's been marvelous seeing him in the role of dad (or Baba as he'll be called). For LF's two-month birthday present we opened her Maryland 529 college savings plan. It's never too early!
 Speaking of early - LF is my new alarm clock, of course, and she didn't fail in her mission during her first road trip from Virginia Beach to St. Augustine, Florida. My sister, Lindsay, was moving down to join her husband in the Sunshine State and so LF and I tagged along for the ride. Including Virginia we visited five states and ate our way through all of them. Our first stop was Fayetteville, NC where we just rested our heads. Then it was on to Charleston, South Carolina where we stayed at the stately Embassy Suites Charleston. What a treat! The hotel was right downtown and as you can see from the photo above, gorgeous.
 Our first happy hour in Charleston was at Social Wine Bar. We noshed on pizza, blue cheese chips, roasted cauliflower and mussels and loved every bite! We landed here around 5pm on a Friday night and enjoyed people watching and marveling at my sleeping baby while the crowd slowly picked up and the people came in.

 Then, it was on to Pearlz for their oyster happy hour. Just down the street from Social, we cozied up to strangers at a long bar peninsula and Lindsay and Sheri dug into a few rounds of oysters (I don't care for the bivalves). Lillie Foulé continued to sleep and when she did want to nurse, we just cozied up on a bench in front of the restaurant before heading back inside.

 On Saturday we wandered the streets of Charleston one more time before packing up and heading south. I loved these swinging benches on the boardwalk and soaking up the sunshine and stretching my legs before the next part of our journey. Thankfully all of our driving was around 3 hours per stretch so we weren't cooped up in the car too long - and perfectly spaced for my baby girl's feedings and naps!
 Posing here before a wedding party took portraits in front of this fountain. The bride and bridesmaids were wearing platform stiletto glitter heels! Oh my!
Next we headed to Savannah, Georgia to see our dear family friend, Marty. Marty owns Savannah Smiles Dueling Piano Bar and played Lillie Foulé's first dueling piano bar song - A New York State of Mind. The lyrics seem appropriate for our trip (even though we were headed in the opposite direction of NY). We were, after all, on a holiday from the neighborhood :)
 Then it was on to St. Augustine where we headed straight for A1A, recommended by a friend of Sheri's. She didn't lead us astray as the food was delicious and the view beautiful (if only it hadn't been raining it would have been even better!). Lillie Foulé slept on the seat next to me while I dug into a delicious salmon and rice dish.
 On our last day of the trip, Lindsay and Sheri dropped Lillie Foulé and I off at the Jacksonville airport for a (direct!) flight home. It was her first flight at just six weeks and so I was of course nervous as to how she would do. Thankfully, the lift off and descent were fine - she slept the whole time and nursed just a little as we lifted off but didn't seem to be bothered by the change in pressure. Lucky me!
Unrelated to our trip but I just love the bracelet my friend Margaret from Bay and Bee's made for LF. What a unique and precious gift that we'll treasure for always! I can't wait until her little wrist chunks up enough for her to wear it!

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