Step out of your comfort zone.

This past November I experienced one of the greatest adventures of my travelling youth. Not one of the greatest distance or adrenaline-pumping thrills, but of the most intimacy in which I experienced a lifestyle so foreign from my own.  I’m talking about a step out of my comfort zone and into the lives of a rural, African community as an international volunteer. The project was only 2-weeks in span but the impact was tremendous, for both the community and volunteers alike.

volunteering abroad in Naro Moru, Kenya

My volunteer team in Naro Moru, Kenya

About a year ago, during a time of my own personal reckoning, I applied to be a team leader with an international volunteer organization. In an impulsive whirlwind I assumed responsibility for building a team of adults, selecting a grassroots project abroad and facilitating the entire experience over the course of a year.

And so the project ensued. I was relieved to have had recruited nine amazing volunteers dedicated to getting their hands dirty digging trenches for a sustainable irrigation system in Naro Moru, Kenya. After plenty of orientation meetings and pre-departure guidance, my team of rookies set out for Kenya on the 8th of November, 2013.

Volunteers walking to work in Kenya

Daily walk to work in Naro Moru

Small happy village boy in Kenya

“Jambo” Each morning

Our destination was a village at the base of Mount Kenya where an existing water system proved no longer sufficient for the growing population. The monetary donation from volunteers made it possible for the community to secure skilled labour and  larger PVC piping to replace the old system, which tapped fresh water from the river to distribute amongst individual farms. Our job in-country was to work under the direction of the community members to achieve a newly functional system, pipe by pipe.

hard-working Kenyan women carrying shovels

Kenyan women on their way to work

Transporting pipes 10 km by hand

Transporting pipes 10 km by hand

mount kenya volunteers walk to jungle

Two-hour walk to our project site in the jungle

Each day Kenyan men and women hiked two hours to the jungle under the blazing sun and at 7,500 ft above sea level. For us volunteers, who admittedly don’t walk two hours in a week, the trek alone proved mighty difficult without the foreign heat and altitude-affected heart rates. One of my volunteers experienced faintness and fatigue so notably that she had to turn back half way accompanied by a Kenyan committee member. This of course was before I was made aware of the wild buffalo that graze the land and meet small groups of people with intense aggression.

Upon descent into the jungle miles of trenches were dug in order to expose the existing pipe.  The new system was propped alongside for replacement when weather permitted, often interrupted by downpours of heavy rain from the mountain’s extreme climate changes.

I have to say the first day was the biggest shock. Things in Kenya operate much differently than North American standards. Time is not of the essence and there is little to no stress when progress is threatened. The concept of ‘hard work’ doesn’t hold impactful meaning because gruelling labour persists everyday without sight of the end, and everybody smiles.

volunteer project irrigation kenya

Digging trenches and replacing pipes

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DSC_0128African man smiling, teeth

Aside from challenging ourselves physically everyday and being put to shame by the Kenyan culture’s tenacity, we had the pleasure of sharing our personal lives with each other through photographs and stories. In Naro Moru we were treated like family from the first day we set foot in the community. We were invited into our new friends’ homes to share meals, meet their children and elderly parents, and learn how they work and what they hope to achieve. Can I say I would treat foreign strangers with the same welcome to my home in Canada? Truthfully, no. As Canadians we pride ourselves on kindness and positive spirit, but I found myself shaking my head with a knowing smile that no one I know encompasses these values more than this community.

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DSC_0201hug a kenyan woman

african women looking at cell phone

Showing our family to theirs


friendly african people in kenya

No amount of mental preparation can ready you for the range of emotions that you will experience in an adventure like this. Some days are tough. You are far from home, far from anything that resembles your normal routine, living conditions aren’t always comfortable, and you may witness scenes that make your heart ache. These are all completely normal and important things to experience. I’d say being uncomfortable is what makes it unforgettable. The important vision I had for my team was to leave a gentle footprint behind. We did not go to change a way of life or push our influence on the community- we were their visitors, an extra pair of hands, and friends to trade stories with.

For information on the company who helped to make this trip possible, visit Developing World Connections here.

kenyan school girls in uniforms

I hope my recount of this experience compels you to take a leap to do something beyond your expectations. There will be moments of  self-doubt, extreme gratitude, apprehension, and love for complete strangers. Your sequence of emotions will differ from another  but I can promise you all the same- you will never forget it. 

Dad’s bedroom makeover

My dad is the best. Really the best.

He is handy around the house and always up for a new project, but has never been in any rush to completely reno his 1940’s bungalow. A basement update here, new baseboards there, but for it to take 15 years for his pink and black tiled bathroom to be given a face lift I’d say “no rush” is an understatement.

Which is why I believe my father would never make a point of updating his bedroom. In his eyes, this is last on the priority list as nobody sees it and “it’s just my bedroom”. I felt truly sorry that he believed that. Bedrooms can be a sanctuary! They should bring you peace and tranquility, represent your style and make you excited to go to sleep and wake up in.

So, while my dad planned a golf trip in Mexico over his birthday I planned a surprise renovation in his honour. Plus, what am I good for if I haven’t learned anything from Dad ? ; )

dad's bedroom renovation before picture

Dad’s bedroom BEFORE

Dad's outdated bedroom before picture

Purple on Purple

A reminder that this blog aims to focus on the richer AND poorer approach to design, and in this case I was indeed poorer. I had to pick and choose where I would focus the budget for this project. Priorities were a fresh coat of paint, new bed linens, to hell with those hideous lamps, and some simple drapery. The white furniture would have to stay although I didn’t mind as it fit nicely into my vision for the space. The piece de resistance for this room would be a new headboard, fully designed and constructed by yours truly. Other than that, I worked some other touches into the room from decor I felt better used by my dad rather than collecting dust in my storage locker.

The breakdown looks as follows:

Paint: Home Depot, $50.00

Duvet cover: IKEA, $50.00

Drapes: Homesense, $30.00

Lamps: IKEA, $40.00 each

Rug: my own

Bridge canvas: my own, originally Homesense, $200

Rustic Headboard: total for all materials roughly $35.00

Grand total: $ 245.00

dad's bedroom makeover after photo

Dad’s bedroom AFTER

simple rustic father's bedroom

Simple, clean

rustic DIY stained headboard

Rustic DIY headboard

Dad returned from golf at 2 am and switched on his bedroom light to quite the surprise. Needless to say, we now see eye-to-eye on the importance of bedroom decor and he is loving his new man den.

DIY Rustic Headboard (and it’s cheap!)

I almost don’t even want to share this secret because it was so easy, and really fun to do. I can safely assume my father will never browse the internet for design blogs so I have the satisfaction that he will continue admiring my handiwork blindly.

rustic headboard for man DIY

Modern meets rustic man

Here is a detailed breakdown of the materials I used, all available at a local hardware store:

1x6x8 unfinished framing lumber, approx. $2.00 x 7

3 or 4 wood stains of various colours, ea. approx $14.00 (I bought one and used existing)

1x3x8 framing lumber for bracing, approx $1.60 x 2

Nails

I was inspired by a photo of a headboard on Houzz that was constructed out of reclaimed wood, where each panel was made up of smaller pieces in a brick-like pattern. Each wood segment appeared to be a different species with unique markings and colour differentiation. I also like the modern look of a headboard that sits low and extends wide enough to reach the night tables.

To achieve the staggered pattern I made random pencil marks on each 8 ft panel so it could be sawn into segments. These were laid out in their original form but each stained a different shade- keep in mind you need several coats and drying time between each.

diy headboard bracing

Staining segments; back panel bracing

Once final staining is dry it is time to flip the pieces over and fit them back together. Your 1x3x8 bracing panels must be cut to size to match the constructed height of your 7 boards. You should hammer two nails per board through the brace panel. I chose to nail through the back of the headboard so that nail heads would not be visible, but nails appearing neatly on the front can add to the rustic appeal.

You should have about 4 brace panels secured evenly across the back of the headboard. If it still feels weak, add more.

rustic headboard DIY stain

The next step is to line the headboard up to the bed frame in order to mark where to drill. You’ll need help to hold it in place- this sucker is heavy. Tip- place a piece of cardboard under each side of the headboard so it is not sitting directly on the ground. This will prevent it from scraping across the floor when the bed is moved.

how to attach headboard to bed frame

Align the headboard to the bed frame

Drill the appropriate size for a bolt to fit the frame to the board and secure with a nut and washer.

That’s it.

DIY wood headboard for a guy

Wheat Belly Brownies

Wheat Belly Brownie

These wheat belly brownies do not replace the ooey, gooey, sticky (and if you’ll admit it, slightly underdone) homemade brownie or even box version. But, if you like rich, dark chocolate and opt for a less guilty version when you single-handedly demolish an entire tray, these make you feel like less of a degenerate.

This recipe was taken straight from the Wheat Belly Cookbook, although this is one you can really play with according to your taste. Less dark or less bitter, more sugar, sugar substitutes etc.  A good read is the Wheat Belly Blog where others post their variations.

Ingredients:

8 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped

3/4 cup butter

2 tsp instant espresso powder

4 eggs

1/4 cup canned coconut milk

2 tsp vanilla extract

1/2 cup chopped walnuts

2 tbs coconut flour

1/4 cup ground golden flaxseeds

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350°.

Combine chocolate and butter. Melt in a double broiler stirring every 20 seconds and then add espresso powder.

Add the eggs, one at a time, blending well. Stir in coconut milk and vanilla.

Stir in walnuts, coconut flour and flaxseeds and pour batter into 9″x9″ baking pan. Bake for 25 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.

flourless brownie

brownie

Balcony Garden

I love the look of fresh herbs and flowers potted in tin pails. Aside from an Elephant Flower tree nestled in the corner, this is the extent of my modest balcony garden and I think it’s just right.

potted herbs in tin pots

Eventually I’d like a weathered bench on which to sit these but for now a barn board mirror frames my little collection nicely. I also adore these mini lanterns purchased on sale at Indigo.

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