Sunday, January 25, 2009

Arriving in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

January 17, 2009

I was a little worried as I settled into my seat on the KLM flight leaving out of Amsterdam. Not everyone had boarded yet, but it looked like the plane would be quite full. Seated just behind business class, I was in the middle section in a grouping of four seats, with an aisle. Next to me was an American father, with his baby boy, who was probably not yet two. The baby’s mother, who looked Ethiopian, was seated next to them, and lastly there was a European man on the other aisle. We were a full row, with the baby being passed from lap to lap of his parents. Then he began vomiting. Parents hurriedly pulled out the airplane barf bag, and Kleenex. They started wondering about getting some Ginger Ale for the baby, so I offered to go get some, jumped up, and made the request of the stewardesses, who were still greeting the people boarding the plane. Luckily, over the next eight hours, the baby was calm, and didn’t get obviously sick again. I tried to sleep during most of the flight, so I wouldn’t be hyper-aware of any sickness next to me.

(I ran into the father in Addis a week later, and the baby was adjusting well and feeling better. And the man at the end of my row was not European, but American. He was actually one of my colleagues whom I hadn't met before!)

I did wake up, fully, as we landed in Khartoum, the hot capital of Sudan. It was 90 degrees when we landed around 6pm. From my tiny opening onto the scene, glancing through my neighbor’s windows, I could see a warm, hazy glow around the surrounding planes, and the buildings in the distance, just outside the airport walls, I assumed. I expected the airport to be very isolated from the downtown, but the buildings nearby appeared to be solid, 4-story, cement buildings. The setting sun gave everything a beautiful pinkish, orange glow, and it seemed very calm and peaceful. Hard to believe that the conflict in this country is so terrible, long-lasting and extreme. The African Union soldiers I am going to train in neighboring Ethiopia will be sent to Sudan, for peace-keeping in Darfur. The sun set quickly as it does by the equator, and surprised me as I spoke with colleagues while we were waiting for the crew to clean and allow more people to board to leave Khartoum.

Arrival in Addis was more or less on time. I never bothered to check what time we actually arrived, or when we were supposed to, for that matter. Trying to get into the African mind-set, maybe, of not worrying about time. Actually, it was probably more due to the fact that I just kept sleeping away, and knew my colleagues would be there to pick me up, and make sure I got to the Hilton without any problems.

The Hilton on a Saturday night was quite impressive. Woman in gorgeous dresses walked glamorously in and out of the building, with handsomely dressed men. To enter the building, our bags had to be x-rayed, and we had to walk through a metal detector. At least one of my colleagues was patted down by the security guard there. There have been bombings in Addis Ababa over the last several years, typically targeting large groups and Westerners. If Internet access is available in the small town where we’re headed, I may try to do a little research on that. I’m too cheap to pay the US$30 for 24 hours of Internet access here at the Hilton, when I plan to sleep for about 8 hours, and then will only have 2 hours left before heading out of town. I’m not sure if there was a special event, but there was upbeat African music playing loudly in a club next to the check-in desk. I wondered what kind of event it was – private or public – Ethiopian or expat – for the tourists or those living in Addis?

No air-conditioning needed at 7,500 feet in January in Addis. My room was a comfortable 70 degrees, quite perfect for sleeping. I read a little bit of Bill Bryson’s travels in Europe, as he was heading to the most northern city in Europe, while I was going to be getting closer to the equator. I slept soundly, for close to 8 hours, before I noticed the bright sunlight pouring from behind the edges of my heavy draperies. Enjoyed an expensive “American” breakfast – the one that costs the most, because it’s all-inclusive. I think it was part of the outrageous room price, and while I ate well, I doubt I ate my money’s worth. The freshly squeezed orange juice tasted so good, and not surprisingly, the Ethiopian coffee was delicious. After two cups though, I found my hands a little jittery. More caffeine than at home? Caffeine at altitude? I don’t know, but it was still good.

Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony in Addis Ababa

Friday, January 16, 2009

Belgian Eating, Adds 1.5 Pounds

We're not exactly the hippest couple in the greater Washington D.C. area. We tend to eat locally, usually in our own neighborhood when we go out. If we venture from our 'hood, we let our trust-worthy Washingtonian magazine direct us to good restaurants. Especially good are the extremes: Dirt Cheap Eats, and the 100 Very Best Restaurants. This time though, with our friend Lisa in visiting for Seattle, we were looking for cool, funky, cheap and delicious - ideally all at the same place.

After a bit of online research, it became apparent we needed to head over the Atlas District. If you live in the DC area, you might not have even heard of it, unless you are more cutting-edge and hipper than I am! This is the H Street Northeast neighborhood. And we found a gem. A diamond in the rough. One of the reviews I read said that the place looks closed even when it isn't, if you actually do locate it, and then when you try to push open the door, it's so heavy and sticky, that you still think it might be closed. Once inside though, you know you are in a different world.

The pretty hostess sits on a tall stool, an expert knitter at work. Without a complete party, you're unlikely to get seated at a table, because there simply aren't many. But who cares! Get a beer and check the place out. The dark wood and intimate tables creates a warm, welcoming, secret club environment. But not a pretentious club. Upstairs, the walls are left unfinished, the ceiling too, with the wooden crossbeams exposing a little third floor nook, probably office space for the owner. Maybe that's where he orders his amazing selection of Belgian beers. Wednesday night there were 3 different beers for $5 each, and we tried them all. Citrus, a hint of pear, and honey seemed to flavor each one. And then don't forgo the Chimay, even if it's not on special. It was delicious.

Known for their moules-frites, a typical Belgian dish of mussels and fries, we knew we had to try them. The first time I ever ate them, I was actually in Brussels, and up until the other day in the Atlas District, they were the best I had tasted. But enter the mussels at Dr. Granville Moore's, the best Belgian restaurant in the Atlas District. They were amazingly scrumptious. The sauce was so good, we had to remind each other that no, we could not lift up the giant bowl and drink the broth afterwards. But we did have some bread good for dipping into the sauces. And the fries. Abundant bowl of the kind of fries that make you wanting more and more, until you realize you are stuffed more than the Thanksgiving turkey.

Drooling as I write this... I just found the recipe for the mussels I ate - Moules Fromage Bleu. I'm not sure why anyone would want to try to make them at home, when you can have the experts prepare them for you for 16 bucks, but hey, some people are more adventuresome. The Washingtonian review of Granville Moore's is here for you to check out. And if you want, you can go straight to the Granville Moore website to check out the menu and prices, and photos. And if you're not a mussel eater, they made an amazing skirt steak as well.

Enjoy! I sure did. Instead of losing any weight in my second week, I managed to gain 1.5 pounds. But, I figure I'm in this for the long haul, and this splurge was so well worth it. There is a lesson learned - next time I'll try to share a dinner with a friend, because they really do give you a mountain of moules, more than enough for sharing with another hungry friend. We did do one thing right - the three of us shared the Chocolate Chocolate Brownie with Bourbon Caramel which was rich enough to satisfy us all, even shared.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Radio, Radio!

I just finished an phone interview with the Clark Howard show just a few moments ago. It will air sometime in the next few days, hopefully before I head to the airport to leave for Ethiopia. Although his radio show doesn't air in the DC area, we'll be able to listen to it online. You can click here to go directly to his website, and you'll see the links on the top-left to find a station near you. I hope you'll tune in and let me know what you think. I can't believe I forgot to mention my blog! Duh!

Clark Howard is all about saving money. As he said at the start of our show, he's cheap, and not afraid to admit it! Seems like I'll need to read more of his website, and start to Tivo his show on CNN. One of his goals is to provide "a roadmap to financial stability." Sounds good to me! Anyhow, you'll see he has lots of great topics related to what I've been blogging about - saving cash - and more!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Free Money Arrives!

Hey, who doesn't want free money??? Not too long ago, I did a blog post about looking for free money through state government database searches. Here's the link to that blog post on free money. Looking around on the site, I tried to score some potential money for myself and other friends and relatives. I filled out a form, but have heard nothing. However, my in-laws filled out their form, because I had located their names linked to some money from when they lived in North Carolina, decades ago. Just a few days ago, they emailed to see if we had heard anything and... drum-roll please...

They received a check for over $3,300 today in the mail. All they have to do is cash the money. Awesome, huh? If anyone else gets lucky through these database searches, let me know!!! I'd love to hear your stories.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The first 5 pounds

Goal - to get to a healthy BMI. (This is the kind way of saying I have a lot of weight to lose)

I have been eating so well. Yea me! I know I have to be extra good now, because when I'm in Ethiopia next week, I have no idea what kind of food I will be able to choose to eat. Now I'm working on what I want to eat, and next week, I'll probably have to eat whatever, but in much smaller quantities. Personally, I'd much rather eat a whole LOT of salad and vegetables to keep my fat and calorie intake down. But when traveling in Africa, I usually have to avoid eating any raw vegetables, losing a great source of healthy snack food. Happily, I can be assured that if choices are available, I have at least one colleague who likes to eat (out) as much as I do. We managed to eat our way through Cotonou, Benin quite well a few months ago...

So, in less than a week, I have lost about 5 pounds. I know that first week of serious portion control and healthy eating is a shock to the system, and the weight seems to slide away, giving all dieters and those committed to losing weight a great hope for the future! Guzzle the water, watch the portions, and write it down!

I even treated myself to a small ice cream sundae at home last night - 1/2 cup of Breyer's vanilla, 1TB Hershey's chocolate syrup, 4TB of whipped cream, and a cherry on top. I know that being too "good" is a recipe for pigging out, so it's definitely better to treat myself from time to time!!!

How's everyone else doing on the resolutions?

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Resolutions Days 3 and 4

I started back at my fitness training program at the YMCA yesterday. I am really aching today. My abs are sore, my legs are stiff, and I find subtle aches and pains doing the simplest of things, such as typing on the computer! As soon as I got home from the gym, I changed into warm clothes, and the family went ice-skating. We are all at different levels of beginner, so we leave with a few aches and pains when we're done, and not much of a cardio workout. My husband took one hard fall, and either sprained or broke his wrist below his thumb. They have him in a splint today, and he'll follow up on Tuesday to see if he ends up in a cast.

I ate well yesterday and wrote everything down, until after dinner, when my delightful cousin made Bananas Foster for dessert, and I ate all of my portion, with decadent amounts of butter and brown sugar. Thing is, in terms of Weight Watchers points, I'm probably still ok since I have 35 points to eat as I wish for the week. I guess we'll see when it's January 8, and one week has gone by.

It seems Weight Watchers has a new program in place, which is supposed to be even easier to do than the points, so I may have to actually stop into a meeting to learn more about it. For now, I keep track of everything I eat on my FitDay account, and use the points to be sure I'm in a range to be losing weight.

Today has also been good. I'm feeling very dedicated to eating healthy food right now, and to writing it all down. Tomorrow, I get back to the gym for my Monday and Wednesday training, and hopefully can squeeze in a half hour at some point to begin my 12-week training program for my 5K! I have 4 doctors appointments this week, and have to squeeze them all in during my son's morning pre-school, so it doesn't leave much leisure for working out...

Friday, January 2, 2009

Resolutions - Day 2

The goals in focus today: Write down everything I eat AND get to a healthy BMI

With free babysitting available today, we're going out to dinner and a movie tonight. I've researched the calories and estimates of Weight Watchers points already for what I plan to eat, and posted it on my FitDay account. Today, I am resolved to stay within my " WW points" even if we are going out to dinner. So far today, I've done quite well.

Earlier, I took the kids to the movies and brought my own 94%-fat-free microwave popcorn and bottles of water for us to drink. This was healthier, and of course, cheaper than buying anything there.

On my FitDay account, I'm setting up ranges of healthy eating - carbohydrates, fats, proteins, etc with my goal ranges. The program will calculate the daily results automatically. But it was hard to decide what my goal ranges should be! Just how many grams of protein I should eat per day, or how much saturated fat? After a lot of hunting around on the internet, I found a good link to use, called "Healthy Diet: Do you know what to eat?" It's on the Mayo Clinic site. Thought I'd share the link, since I found it challenging to get good info on the subject today! Hopefully you will find it useful too, especially if you have any healthy eating goals for 2009.

Oh, and I know it's not significant, but it's a mental boost.... I "lost" 1.5 pounds yesterday. In one day. Nothing to get excited about, because I ate a lot of salty food New Year's Eve, and know I was retaining water the morning of New Year's Day. But still, it's nice to see positive progress on my little charts. :)

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Resolutions - Day 1

After a low-key and fun New Year's Eve celebration with good friends and kids, today was the day to get the resolutions started. It didn't help much that we had a New Year's Day Open House to attend with many friends and delicious food, but I was determined to start the year honest. I'm not planning to write about my resolutions in such detail everyday, but I thought it was a good idea to start of 2009 like this. Soon I'll have a trip to Ethiopia, and will get back to blogging about Africa again.

1. Goal - I will write down everything I eat ----I actually asked the host at the party to find a scrap of paper for me, so I could surreptitiously take notes while at the party. Otherwise, I knew I could "forget" to write some things down. I drank huge glasses of seltzer water instead of wine, ate a lot of fresh veggies, and kept the more decadent food to small tablespoon-sized portions. Who in their right mind doesn't want to eat a lot of spinach-artichoke dip???? I chose the smallest crackers, thinking it would be rude to just stick in my finger (which is calorie-free) and scooped up a reasonably-sized gob of deliciousness.

2. Goal - Healthy BMI - In the end, I ate about 2000 calories today, or about 31 Weight Watchers points. (Ideally, I should aim for 23 points, with 35 extra points per week to eat as I please.) I could have done better, but at a party with good food, I normally do much worse! So I was pleased with my progress. I also took the time today to sign up for Fit Day, where my weight loss, nutrition, and fitness goals can be tracked. If you want to see how I did today, you can check out my FitDay public account here.

3. Goal - Run a 5k. I went online and found a "couch to 5K" program that I'm going to try. It seems I should be able to do it in 12 weeks. I didn't exercise at all today, but I'm getting mentally ready to start the program. And I also looked around for 5K races in April, found a local one in Reston, VA, and wrote to the coordinator to find out how to sign up. I got an out-of-office reply, but hopefully I'll hear from him next week, and I'll commit to my first run ever.

4. Goal - Save money for the family. We plan to cancel our cable. It should save us about $44/month. I'll let you know when we actually cancel it, though.