05 August 2013

My Neighbors are Creepy

In our apartment complex there are these old, abandoned houses. It's a shame, because they're really pretty. To me, they look like they're from the Old South. 

 There are a few residents here though.........!

These are Madagascar Orb Weavers, huge spiders who weave
some of the biggest webs on earth.  Just looking up the websites,
to find out what they were, made my skin crawl! They are not
poisonous but will bite if provoked.  I will leave them to their creepy old houses.

25 July 2013

Just pictures

Here are a few pictures from our new everyday life....
(I don't know why some are sideways; I fixed them with my edit software but they re-rotate on Blogger. Argh.)

Natalie and two of her new friends, Jet & Maya

My happy place!  I've been able to get a lot done on my albums.
I am working on the last of my traditional, paper albums - pictures of
me from birth through our wedding.  I have made the switch to digital
but still enjoy the paper-crafting way. 


Sunday brunch!

Yes, that's bacon, and we bought it here!  But - it was uncured
and UNsalted! We actually had to put salt on it.

Beautiful strawberries are in season


The kids' favorite juice.  Ceres is a South African brand and
the flavors have romantic names like "Secrets of the Valley" and
"Full Moon Harvest"

In this jug is real, fresh milk.  Aaron buys it from farmers
who sell it along the road (or sometimes he gets it at the gas station...??)
He runs it through our circa-1950s pasturizer then puts it in here.
Our other option is icky, boxed, shelf-stable milk.
So the family appreciates Aaron's efforts.

My little Alex is getting so big!  He likes to walk the dog down to
the playground and brings along a basketball so he can practice.

Meet Poutsik!

Last summer, we came back to the US with an African street mutt named Spot. I loved that dog. I met her when she was just a puppy; she was a scrawny and shy little thing who had been born in the sand, underneath a truck. We brought her all the way home and planned to bring her with us to Madagascar.

But ...after making the decision to stay home for a year, we had to rent a house....and finding a rental house that fit 4 kids and allowed pets was pretty much impossible.  So I had to find another family for Spot, which broke my heart. Don't feel too bad for the dog though.....she now lives the upper-middle-class suburban life, with a super nice family in northwest Indiana. She gets to sleep on her owners' bed, gets gourmet food and the finest care. A rags-to-riches story.

So, I insisted on getting a new dog when we moved here. There are always embassy people coming and going, and Aaron knew of one family leaving in July, and they had a dog they were unable to take with them. I exchanged emails and pictures with them, and that was it - the timing and everything would work out really well.  I loved the pictures of this fluffy, family-friendly pooch! Bonus: he had hair, instead of fur - a feature unique to his breed, and this made him easier on allergy-sufferers like my husband. Perfect.

His name is Poutsik....which, apparently, in the local language is like calling him "Whitey."  (The Malagasy word for white is potsy, pronounced "poot-see."  He is mostly Coton de Tulear, mixed with something else (we'll never know).  Cotons are known as the national breed of Madagascar, and they have interesting origins.

We've had him for almost a month now and I have to say, he's very obedient, quiet, patient with our kids, and just really happy for a little attention and a couple daily romps outside.   He doesn't mind baths or being brushed, which is good, because that cotton-like hair traps all kinds of stuff.  I will be sending him to the groomer once a month too, to keep his hair on the short side.  There is a nice place here that does boarding/grooming/vet care - and they will even do pick-up and delivery for a very low price.

Lucky dog, he's a Tambrini now. ; )

Before picture...this is how we looked when we got him.  The
breed is supposed to have long hair, but who has time for that?
I like seeing his big eyes!

09 July 2013

The Croc Farm

When you think of Madagascar, you probably think of exotic animals ....like Marty, Alex, Gloria and Melman, right?  Alas, there are no zebras, lions, hippos or giraffes here, at least not any that are native (or any that crash-landed in a plane from NYC).

What animals DO live here are loads of different speices of lemurs, lizards, bugs, birds, and other odd creatures, inclduing one nasty character called a fossa.  There are also crocodilles!  Crocs are native to the island.....they were nearly hunted to extinction, but places like this croc farm in Tana have brought them back. Some of the crocs end up as restaurant fare and handbags, but mostly they
are part of a conservation effort.

The crocs are divided into ponds/enclosures - there is one for the babies, one for year-old crocs, one for "teenagers" and then a huge lake for the adults.  They are fed three times a week - huge crates of dead baby chickens are dumped into their enclosure and visitors can view the feeding frenzy. It's pretty disgusting and fascinating at the same time.

The farm also has giant tortoises, lemurs, birds and reptiles like chameleons, iguanas and snakes.  There are also two angry-looking fossae who pace back and forth in their cages. Our kids got to feed a couple curious lemurs who leaped down from the trees, and even ride on the 90-year-old giant tortoise. It was cool.  Planning to go back again!!

Loved this welcome sign

Basking in the sun....they LOOK like they're sleeping....

Trying to look serious, like the Easter Island Head Guy

Awesome turtle hut

The creepiest part was when visitors started to gather on the viewing
deck - the crocs knew it meant feeding time was near and started
swimming in closer.  Guess they weren't sleeping....

This is where the phrase "feeding frenzy" comes from. Yuck.


Less scary baby crocs sunning themselves

more little ones....almost cute....almost.

The farm is in this peaceful countryside

A fossa paces in his cage.

Olivia rides Mr Tortoise

First lemur sighting!

Who knew you could ride an ancient tortoise??

These guys were definitely shy about getting too near humans

Alex offering the lemur some bread - he snatched it and leaped away

04 July 2013

The Barbie Pink Birthday

Four years ago on July 3, in a tiny hospital set in the Minnesota corn fields, we welcomed our little firecracker - Miss Natalie Aerin.  What a fabulous addition she has been to our family!!  They don't come much cuter, sweeter, smarter or funnier than her.  In her young life, she has lived in 3 states and now 2 African countries.  She is a champion traveler, a prolific artist, and a hamtastic baby of the family. 

Her 4th birthday came just a week after we landed in Tana, so we had to be prepared.  I brought her chosen cake mix (strawberry), frosting (pink) and sprinkles (hot pink) in my suitcase, and mailed her gifts ahead. Aaron wrapped them all and had them waiting, along with a HUGE surprise....something he handmade for her! 

Natalie and new-found friend Audrey

Swinging at our playground

The shockingly pink cake

cleaning off the candles

Barbie stuff .....

...and more Barbie stuff!  Because.....

Dad built this totally amazing Barbie house just for his girls!!!

Now it's partially furnished. When we
get our first shipment, it will be complete!

Olivia and Mom got crafty and copied a DIY video
to make this Barbie vending machine

30 June 2013

Thus it Begins

Hey, we made it!  We are 9374 miles away from Chicago, and that, folks, is pretty much the opposite side of the world, and the opposite half of the equator.  That may explain why we are completely screwed up .....where are we, what time is it, which way is north?!  Went to bed Saturday night and finally fell asleep at 4am, got up at noon....and that's an improvement over Friday night into Saturday.

This is what it looks like to pack for 6 people to
move overseas. Organized Chaos.
I am so exhausted but I know if I go to bed now, I won't sleep.  Hoping for midnight, since tomorrow we have to be up by 9 and head to the embassy to take care of some details, get cash, meet people, etc.

Our travel could not have gone smoother.  There was no running through airports to get to the gate on time, no lost luggage, no sick children, no delays.  Charles de Gaulle airport did not even break me this time - no tears!!  The overnight flight from Chicago to Paris is taxing, especially if, like me, you do not sleep on planes.  I tried alcohol, I tried drugs, no use.

Natalie and Olivia and our mountain of luggage
Waiting for our flight
Once in Paris we collected our ten suitcases (we also had ten carry-ons) and stashed them at an airport storage place for some hideous price-per-bag, but who cares?  We were rid of them for 24 hours. We spent the rest of the day and night at the airport Hilton, which was all luxurious and full of business travelers, so we tried to keep a low profile. Got to go swimming, and I even convinced Aaron that room service was our only dinner option, since the hotel restaurant was too fancy and all we had were sweats, yoga pants and hoodies. 
Awesome airport view from our hotel in Paris!

I was kind of dreading the 10 hour flight to Antananarivo. But it was a daytime trip, and our 400+ fellow passengers were cheery and easy-going.  Between movies, iPods, books and lots of food service (thank you Air France!!) it did not seem so bad.
In Paris for only a day but....Nick and I had
to have a Croque Monsieur

Nick demonstrates how you can charge your
ipod in-flight (!) on this lovely new Boeing 777
Plus there was a great selection of movies and TV
shows to keep us entertained...I love when everyone
gets their own screen

So, first impressions....it is impossible not to compare it to our last post, which I did not exactly like HATED at first. This place seems far less depressing, more colorful, and the weather is GORGEOUS.  It's winter here, but that means 60s-70s during the day and 40s-50s at night. To me, that's perfect.  In the morning we open all the sliding doors (we have 4 balconies!) and eat breakfast outside. Heaven.
This is the playground outside our building!  Aaron and Alex were
playing soccer while Liv and Natalie made new friends

Our house is a large,two-story apartment within a gated community. It is brand new and very Euro-looking.  Really beautiful.  I still can't get over it!  I will post pictures soon.  The kids really like it, especially the fact that other American kids live in the same building, and there is a playground and soccer pitch right outside the front door.  Because it's in this safe area, they will be able to ride scooters and bikes freely without worrying about traffic. 

The fact that Aaron was here for 9 months before we arrived is making the transition 100% easier than usual. He had the house all set up and the food stocked. He knows people and how to get places. Yesterday he drove us around, showed us the embassy, the school and our pretty-impressive-for-a-third-world-country grocery store. We've already met a few of his friends, and ate at a decent restaurant.  My only complaints so far are the horrifying traffic (not a whole lotta roads here) and the fact that my hardwood floors are so slippery. (boohoo for me, right?)

I am so happy to be all together again, and to be in this lovely place. Bring on the next two years, Madagascar, I'M HERE!!  Just let me get over this jetlag first......

We tried out our first Tana restaurant where Nick ordered the
"Big Burger," which he said should be called the "Big Bun with
a little meat and stuff somewhere in the center"  Where's the beef??