Monthly Archives: March 2014

Published! ‘In the Place of Many Zebras’ is officially a real book!

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Yesterday was an exciting day! I was expecting to order a proof copy of my book, In the Place of Many Zebras: Stories from Kenya on culture, courage, and change. Instead, I was able to proof the book digitally, publish it, and list it for sale on createspace.com. What a great surprise!

So the book is finally a real thing, ready to be read by people after  me taking 2 trips to Kenya and  spending 4 years thinking, researching, interviewing, writing, editing, rewriting, editing, rewriting…and so on. It’s not very long, and I’m sure it’s not perfect, but it’s extremely close to my heart, and it’s a product that I’m very proud of. It baffles me to look back at what I’ve learned about writing and about the world since starting this project. In the writing realm, I’ve learned about interviewing, trust, language barriers, cultural barriers, patience, respect, planning, creative problem solving, research, story structure, narrative nonfiction, memoir, imagery, imagination, dedication, self-discipline, self-editing, self-editing, self-editing, workshopping, self-publishing….and way more that I can’t even think of off the top of my head or that is much bigger to me than all of this tossed-around writing vocab. In the realm of perspective and world view, I’ve learned about Kenya, Maasai people, volunteerism, dedication, sacrifice, fate, female circumcision, early marriage, education, poverty, religion, spirituality, hope, faith, the power of educating girls, cultural change, cultural relativity, cultural sensitivity, non-governmental organizations, government, history, global health, global connections, international travel….again, the list goes one. There are so many things I can’t even think of off the top of my head, and so many things that have soaked into me over the past 4 years of thinking about this mini-book project. So, when I think about all of the intangible personal gains from this project it feels like it’s already paid off for me in very big way!

All the profits from this book will go to the Olooloitikoshi Girl’s Rescue Center in Kenya, where I spent weeks interviewing girls who have faced circumcision and early marriage. This rescue center takes in girls who are at risk of circumcision and early marriage, and provides them with basic life necessities and education sponsorships.

The book is currently for sale at https://www.createspace.com/4631441, and will soon be available as a Kindle book too!

Here is the description of the book:

In 2009, as a newspaper intern, I was sent to interview Colorado resident Mark Hagen about the work he does in Kenya as one of the founders of the Olooloitikoshi Girl’s Rescue Center. He didn’t hesitate in telling me about the issues that Kenyan girls face, namely female circumcision and early marriage that permeates all other parts of their lives. He also didn’t hesitate in inviting me to come see for myself. Five months later, with a sense of adventure and curiosity, I boarded a plane to Kenya. What I found there were girls who allowed me, a 21-year-old writer, to enter deeply into their lives. In 2012 I went back to learn more so that I could share their stories; this book is the result, and all profits made from this book will go back to the Olooloitikoshi Girl’s Rescue Center in Kenya. 

In talking about the controversial subjects of female circumcision and early marriage, my hope is not to perpetuate the dark image of Africa that is often presented to us in mainstream media. Before visiting Kenya, I naively believed that Africa was violent and ravaged, sick and starving and lost. Now, I see the importance of looking at the big picture. It is my hope to show both the complexities of these issues, as well as the spirit and hope of the people who have faced them.

Here are the stories of the girls and women who changed my world by letting me into theirs.
-Cece Romanyshyn

Happy reading, and thanks for supporting this project and the Olooloitikoshi Girl’s Rescue Center!

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Tuesday Talk: Peace Corps, Plane Tickets, and a Proof Copy!

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The end of March is getting close, and I realized the other day what a busy and exciting month it’s been for us. We’ve spent the month simultaneously tying up loose ends and getting excited for some big adventures that await!

Peace Corps: On March 1, Alex and I officially applied for the Peace Corps! Living abroad has been a topic of conversation between us for probably the last 4 years or so. We never took it too seriously, always saying that we had to get married before we could really do it together anyways. Well…. now we’re married (yay!), and in the last few months we got some serious thinking and research done about our options for living and working abroad as a couple.

After researching a bunch of options, like ESL jobs abroad and international school jobs, we  decided that Peace Corps would be the best fit for us. There are so many things to like about it: we get to live abroad and share our skills with a host community, we get to be immersed in another culture for 27 months, they take us as we are without requiring extra degrees or certificates, they place us both in jobs, they are a very reputable organization, they give us money at the end, we get health insurance while serving, we most likely won’t be placed in a giant city, we don’t have to pay to join, we’ll get to know the group of volunteers we serve with so we’ll leave with a network of American friends from all over the country, we’ll have a chance to work in the education field, we’ll learn another language…the list really does go on and on!

While this is quite an exciting potential plan for our future, it takes some extra time for the Peace Corps to place married couples. So, we happily committed to spending one more year in Fraser and put our earliest start date for the Peace Corps as June 2015. It’s a long, slow process, but we are so excited for the possibilities!

Plane tickets: Another thing that’s been our minds for the last couple of years is a trip to South America. With both of us working in schools now, this summer is the perfect chance to go exploring for an extended period of time. With the western part of the continent on our minds, we started researching South American countries. We both want to go to Chile and Argentina, but it’s winter there in June and July so that ended that. I just can’t look forward to going from 7 months of winter in Fraser to 2 months of winter somewhere else. So, that trip will have to be taken later! We also thought about Peru. But, we landed on Ecuador! From the moment we learned about how much this little country has to offer, we were set on it. After a long period of unhealthy addiction to kayak.com, we finally bought our plane tickets to Ecuador last Thursday. Woohoo!!!! We’ve been thinking about this country for so many months now, I don’t think it’s really even set in that we are actually going. Woohoo again!!! We leave June 9 and come back July 22. We would like to spend the first 2 weeks at Spanish school in Banos, but after that we are just free as can be to explore the jungles, mountains, beaches, and towns of this country.

Proof Copy: You may have seen my post earlier this month about wrapping up a mini-book project I’ve been working on for the last couple of years. Well, the cover is designed, the interior is formatted, and the pricing is set. I’m ordering my proof copy of In the Place of Many Zebras this week! After two years of hard work, I am so excited to see this project come to life. Even if it is less than 50 pages long 🙂 It feels like a very big loose end getting tied up! However, I know that even though the writing is done this project has so many more adventures in store for me. I’ll get to learn how to format it as an e-book and how to sell a self-published title. I’ll get to collaborate with the Network Beyond Foundation about how to manage the donations to be made from the book sales. If I’m lucky, I’ll get to discuss it with people and hear what they think about the book and about the issues that girls and women in Kenya are facing. And, I’ll get to send a copy over to the girls at the Olooloitikoshi Girl’s Rescue Center who are featured in the book!

I can’t wait to see what all of these things have in store for us. In times like this, it’s so easy to remember that life is an adventure and a journey, and that the world has a whole lot to teach us 🙂

Spaghetti Squash ‘Mac ‘N Cheese’ Casserole

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I love a good spaghetti squash. Toss it with pesto and have it as a side with pork chops. Eat it by itself with a little butter and parmesan cheese. Or use it as a noodle substitute in good ole fashioned spaghetti.

It’s a little bit time consuming to cook, but not really all that hard. You just bake it, scrape it, and add some mix-ins. My latest spaghetti squash experiment was mac ‘n cheese style. After cooking the squash, I tossed the “noodles” into a casserole dish, added shredded chicken, broccoli, and white cheddar cheese and baked it a little longer.

The fact that Alex and I ate half the pan (with no carby noodle guilt!) was indication enough that this is a delicious way to prepare spaghetti squash. This dish was comfort food with a healthy twist, and I’m sure I’ll be making it again.

Ingredients:

1 Spaghetti Squash

2 1/2 cups broccoli

1 cup shredded chicken

1 1/2 cups shredded white cheddar cheese

1 tsp. Italian seasoning

5 cloves of garlic

Makes 5-6 servings

Step 1:  Cut the spaghetti squash in half and scoop out the seeds. Place the halves insides up in a casserole dish and brush them with olive oil. Bake at 375 degrees for 45-50 minutes.

Step 2: While the squash is baking, chop and steam the broccoli and shred the cheese.

 

Step 3: Remove and let cool 5 minutes. Shred the squash with a fork. It will resemble spaghetti noodles. Discard the skins and put the “noodles” back in the casserole dish. Reduce oven temperature to 250 degrees.

Step 4: Add the broccoli, chicken, and half the cheese to the “noodles.” Mix well.

Step 5: Top the casserole with the remaining cheese and Italian seasoning. I would have added Italian seasoned bread crumbs…but I was out!

Step 6: Bake at 250 degrees for 5 minutes. Then broil on high until cheese is crispy.

 

 

 

Sunday Snapshot: Work Hard, Have Fun

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Alex and Cece on top of Bottle Pass!

Today Alex and I embarked on a cross- country ski up toward Byer’s and Bottle Peaks, which we look at every day from our deck. At 9.5 miles roundtrip and more than 2,000 feet elevation gain going up , the ski was my longest and most strenuous to date, and I knew I’d have to work hard to get there! We went about 4.5 miles up the Byer’s Peak road and then turned off-trail and tromped up a hillside until we came to this beautiful clearing where we could see the back of Byer’s and Bill’s Peaks, and down into the valley below. As tired as we were, we took some time for silliness!

 

Tuesday Talk: Wrapping Things Up

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I think I’m finally admitting it to myself: I am not good at wrapping things up. I’ve been working on a pretty big writing project for the past 4 years, and have been working on the current version of it for about a year and a half. It’s a project that started to unfold when I first visited Kenya and learned about female circumcision in 2010. And it really started to unfold when I went back in 2012 to interview girls and women on the subject. It is now a series of stories from these girls and women, and also includes my story of going to Kenya. I love this project; it’s extremely close to my heart, and I’ve learned a ton from both the story subjects and the writing process. But, man, am I ready for it to be finished!

It’s almost done…really…it is. The bulk of the writing has been finished since, I’m embarrassed to say, probably last June. But I still haven’t done anything with it, shared it with anyone, or used it for any kind of good. Why? First, because all the tiny details of wrapping it up have been more overwhelming to me than going to Kenya twice, interviewing multiple girls and women, writing and rewriting and rewriting their stories. Seriously. The thought of choosing a damn title and designing a cover stopped me in tracks faster than any of the major steps. It’s silly. Second, I wasn’t sure what the best way to share these stories was. I thought about splitting it into magazine stories, trying to find a traditional publisher and selling it as a book, and publishing it as an e-book.  I researched each of these extensively and turn and became only more overwhelmed, feeling like I had to launch an entirely new career to be successful at any of these.

Here are some of my major challenges with wrapping this project up:

Outrunning my own inner critic/ confidence:

The thoughts constantly run through my head: Are all my facts right? Am I representing the truth of this story? Is the writing of high enough quality to share? Have I chosen the best publishing avenue? Am I handling this delicate global issue with grace, honesty, respect, and truthfulness in my writing? Will anyone even read this? Will it even end up being worth all my time and effort?

Sigh. It makes my brain tired just to think about all this…which I am constantly doing!

I must have confidence though, and realize that the answers are yes, yes, yes, yes, I think so, and I am willing to find out!

Sometimes, with big, personal projects, it’s so hard to get out of my own head, take a leap of faith, and put it out into the world.

Lack of writing community:

If there’s one thing I’ve longed through throughout this whole process it’s a community of writers. A solid, lasting community. I’ve had multiple writerly eyes on my multiple drafts of this mini-book, but no one that’s lasted. And, worst of all, no one that I’ve felt it wasn’t a burden to send them drafts.

It’s been a huge hole in the writing process and, I believe, a big part of my confidence issue and indecisiveness. There’s really been no writer to consistently give me solid guidance, critiques, affirmations, or help me through the endless list of problems and challenges I’ve faced in doing this project. There have been people here and there, and I thank them!

Writing is solitary, but sometimes I need to come out of my shell and work with someone.

Indecisiveness:

Like I said, the writing has pretty much been done since last June, but I wasn’t sure what the right publishing avenue was. I want people to read the stories, and I want to raise money for the Olooloitikoshi Girl’s Rescue Center, where my story subjects live. I couldn’t decide how to present this mini-book to the world.

Technology ineptness

I will openly admit that I hate dealing with technology and am not good at it. Therefore, something like designing a book cover to self-publish this mini-book has paralyzed my progress for way too many months. Even the thought of sitting down and trying to do it…ugh….it just deterred me from doing anything at all.

I have to face my demon [technology]…or pay someone else to 🙂 .

Challenges completely out of my control:

These include but are not limited to: having permission to publish people’s story revoked by the story subject and then reinstated months later, working through the Kenyan cultural norm of not talking about female circumcision, receiving conflicting answers on whether or not I could use real names of minors in my story, having to send any fact-checking with people going to Kenya (there is no email or even postal address, so I literally had to wait for someone in the church community to be going to Kenya to deliver even the simplest questions to fact-check), stories and information changing constantly…as is the nature of life/nonfiction.

I’m sure I could think of more 🙂

 

Now, it’s all finally coming together!

All along, I wanted to use this project to raise funds for the rescue center I visited to interview the girls. And now I’ve finally decided what to do with this thing. I plan to self-publish this mini-book and sell it through the church in Greeley that helped build this rescue center in Kenya, as well as selling it on my own. All the profits will go to the Olooloitikoshi Girl’s Rescue Center in Kenya. I am hoping that by sharing the stories with a community that already has ties to the story subjects, I will raise funds, as well as help those people spread the stories to people outside the church community.

I do not know if this will be very successful. I certainly don’t see this book being a national bestseller or bringing me fame…or much money. But I can say that the amount of writing stuff I learned through this process was worth….a TON. And as long as these stories are shared and at least a little bit of money can go back to the story subjects, I will be happy!

I hope it will all be wrapping up this month, so check back in to get your copy of In the Place of Many Zebras: True Stories from Kenya. 

Sunday Snapshot: Kale Babies

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Kale sprouts in our indoor garden!

Kale sprouts in our indoor garden!

I am happy to say that there are signs of life in our indoor garden! Since starting this project, I have planted kale seeds, arugula seeds, garlic cloves for garlic greens, ginger root, and green onion. Alex planted some wheat grass that has come up, and we have been tending the basil and mint that was already in our indoor garden.I also started a little “garden journal” where I keep track of watering, germination, and other observations about what planting methods work and what I’m seeing in the garden. Hopefully these babies will keep growing into strong plants!

It’s nice to see some green when it still looks like this outside:

A sunny day of snowboarding after 13 new inches of snow at Winter Park. Photo courtesy of Alex Romanyshyn.

A sunny day of snowboarding after 13 new inches of snow at Winter Park. Photo courtesy of Alex Romanyshyn.

Weekend Kitchen Experiments

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This was the first weekend since I don’t even know when that Alex and I have been at home all weekend and visitor-free…all weekend! We’ve been in Steamboat, Denver, and at Alex’s family cabin. A lot of of our family comes from Denver to ski and stays with us, so we’ve had our usual steady flow of winter house guests. While we generally like to run around adventuring, and we thoroughly enjoy getting to hang out with our families frequently, it was nice to have a weekend to ourselves and do everything on our own schedule. Needless to say, there was a lot of nesting. We went to the dentist, ran some errands, had a movie/candy night, dog-sat for some friends, went cross-country skiing, watched copious amounts of Modern Family, planted some seeds in our indoor garden, cleaned the house, and, of course, cooked and ate. Here are some new things we tried this weekend:

Homemade Almond Milk

Homemade almond milk. See all the almond pulp settling to the bottom?

Homemade almond milk. See all the almond pulp settling to the bottom?

This homemade almond milk from Oh She Glows was pretty simple to make, and turned out fairly well for a first try. All I did was soak a cup of almonds overnight, and strain them and blend them with four cups of water in the morning. After then were sufficiently “milked” in the blender, I strained them through our

mini mesh strainer into a class measuring cup. The recipe suggested using cheesecloth or something called a nut milk bag…but I didn’t have either so I made do, straining and dumping the leftover almond pulp into a bowl periodically. Then I put the liquid back in the blender and added about a teaspoon of vanilla extract and a dash of cinnamon. Next time, I am going to try using less water, as my almond milk was pretty thing. Otherwise, it turned out pretty good.

Straining homemade almond milk.

Straining homemade almond milk.

Almond Peanut Butter Chocolate Bites

I started with this recipe as a base for what was called “raw cookie dough bites,” something you can make with the leftover almond pulp from making almond milk. But I didn’t really follow this recipe because I didn’t have half the things in it and didn’t want to go buy them (almond butter, coconut oil). Instead, I used 2/3 cup almond pulp, 4 tablespoons honey, 2 tablespoons peanut butter, 1/8 cup broken up chocolate with sea salt. I mixed the almond pulp (which we spent a lot of time drying in the toaster oven before using), honey, and peanut butter together to form balls. Then I stuck a couple pieces of chocolate in the top of each, and put them on a plate in the freezer for about 10 minutes. They ended up being pretty good treats, but certainly tasted nothing like raw cookie dough bites (does anything??) 🙂

Strawberry Almond Milk Ice Cream

Strawberry almond milk ice cream with chocolate on top!

Strawberry almond milk ice cream with chocolate on top!

Okay, it’s probably becoming pretty clear that I was on an Almond Milk bender this weekend….

In my defense, these recipes were just building up on my Pinterest for weeks while we were out having lots of adventures. I am lactose intolerant, so the more dairy-free recipes I can find, the better. Especially when it comes to the dairy stuff I miss the most, like ice cream. Obviously. Sigh. Anyways, I used this recipe as a base for my almond milk ice cream. I had 5 frozen bananas, like the recipe uses, but they weren’t peeled before being frozen. Peeling 5 frozen bananas did not seem like fun. It almost always results in frozen fingers. So I put about 3 cups of frozen strawberries in my blender with 2/3 cup of almond milk. I blended it up, adding small amounts of almond milk periodically and stirring the mixture as it blended. When it reached an ice-creamish consistency, I put it in a bowl and put some broken up dark chocolate with sea salt on top. Mmmmmm this is an easy recipe that I will probably use over and over with any frozen fruit. While this version is not as creamy as ice cream, it’s still delicious and I will be interested to try the recipe with bananas to see if that increases the creamy factor.

Sweet Potato Nachos 

Sweet potato nachos from Two Peas and Their Pod.

Sweet potato nachos from Two Peas and Their Pod.

Again, this is a recipe that I have been wanting to try for weeks, ever since I first saw it on one of my favorite food blogs, Two Peas and Their Pod. As the recipe said, I used three sweet potatoes and used my fancy mandolin cutter (for the first time!) to slice them all into equally thin rounds. This was a TON of sweet potato rounds. I popped them in the oven at 400 degrees, and watched them closely. Still, many of them burnt before others were even crisping at all. This, I did not understand because I knew for a fact that they were all the same thickness. I thought the oven might be too hot, so turned it down to 355 degrees after about 20 minutes and flipping the rounds once. I thought they might have had too much oil…or not enough oil? This turned out to be kind of a tough endeavor for me. In the end, they all shrunk a lot and the ones that weren’t burnt were more like sweet potato leathers than sweet potato chips. They weren’t as crispy as I had been dreaming of since I saw the recipe, but I used the best tray for our nachos. They cooked to a point where I thought if they cooked any longer they would burn, so I took out the tray, sprinkled some mozzarella cheese and black beans on the top and put them back in the oven for about 5 minutes. When the cheese was melted, I topped them with green onions, cilantro, avocado, and a little lime juice. Even though the “chips” weren’t perfect, these were super delicious. This was a creative and delicious flavor combo, and I will definitely keep trying at sweet potato chips until I get them just right.

Red Lentil failure

Sunday afternoon I put some red lentils on the stove for a curry I am planning on making later this week. I’ve made green lentils many times, but never red. However, in this case, I don’t think it was the color of the lentils that is to blame for the debacle I had. While trying to do too many things at once, my lentils boiled over and filled the tray below the burner with water. So, I switched them to another burner, turned it on simmer (since they had already boiled), and walked away. I checked on them once or twice, wondering why they weren’t doing much. I thought maybe the progress was slow, since the burner was on simmer. After about 45 minutes I realized I had turned on the wrong burner. Classic Cece mistake….

After cursing my own idiocy, I turned on the correct burner and let them simmer. Probably because of the extreme boil, followed by 45 minutes of soaking/cooling, followed by simmering these lentils came out as a mushy mess. Fail.

There’s always next time! And blended lentil soup.