Well hello there.

You’ve probably noticed that I haven’t been actively writing here for some time. I’m taking a bit of a break from updating this site at the moment. I’m keeping busy with a number of other projects, both personal and professional, but I do hope to start blogging here again in the near future. Watch this space – I still have a lot to say about travel, life, and making a home wherever you are!

– Jenny


US101: Halloween Pumpkin Carving

Pumpkin carving is a lot more work than I remembered.

I haven’t done a real Halloween pumpkin carving in the US for a long time. I have memories of late autumn afternoons at my Grandpa’s house, carving my masterpiece on the face of the (slightly lopsided) orange monster that I picked out of hundreds at the pumpkin patch. Drinking hot cider, jumping in recently raked leaf piles, plotting the perfect costume. When it got dark, seeing your pumpkin all lit up was magical. I’m sure the memories are heavily filtered – late October in MN is cold at best, and I do remember breaking out in an allergic rash from the leaf pile one year. But it is still a tradition from my childhood that I miss.

Nick spotted the “party pumpkins” (as they were labeled) at the supermarket last week. I’ve never seen them here before (granted, I’ve never looked) – usually the pumpkins are solid all the way through (really squash, perhaps?) But there they were, lining the shelves! It wasn’t quite the same as picking one out from the pumpkin patch, but nevermind. We invited Nick’s sister and her kids over mid-week to join in the fun, since it wouldn’t be the same without little ones around. The day we picked happened to be the first real summer’s day we’ve had here in Cape Town yet – 80s, no wind, pretty much perfect weather, but it seemed odd to be carving pumpkins in Summer. I got over it – it is much nicer to stick your hands in pumpkin goo when you aren’t freezing.

I seem to have conveniently forgotten all the difficult and gross parts about the pumpkin carving process (ah, selective memory). Even though they’re hollow, there is a lot of “meat” in there that you have to clean out, and no easy way to do it. And pumpkins are thick. Which makes them VERY hard to cut, and we had absolutely the wrong tools for the carving job. It’s definitely not something little kiddos (or I) can do on their own – I think Nick had to cut the lids off all our pumpkins, and the adults did all the actual cutting. The part that I was most excited about (roasting pumpkin seeds, mmm) turned out to be a complete schlep – separating the seeds from the stringy goo is tough. We both collapsed at the end of the evening feeling exhausted. Despite all that, I think we had a blast. And seeing them all lit up was just as magical as I remembered it.

Jack-o-Lantern Masterpieces

So, for anyone lucky enough to find a “party pumpkin” who wants to carve it for Halloween, here’s a little how-to:

  1. Find a pumpkin. A critical first step. Pumpkins must be the hollow kind – beware pumpkin-shaped squash that are solid all the way through. If you get one of those, the best you can do is draw a face on them (trust me, I’ve tried to hollow them out and cut them, it 100% does not work).
  2. Prepare your workspace. Lay out some old newspapers on a table or the lawn – it isn’t so much about keeping the area you’re covering neat and tidy as it is about easy clean-up. You’re going to need someplace to dump all that pumpkin-goo you pull out in step 4.
  3. Cut the lid off your pumpkin. This is the step that every Dad out there dreads. Pumpkins are tough little buggers, and it takes some serious power to get the top off. You should make sure to cut the lid at an angle so that it doesn’t fall through when you put it back on later.
  4. Clean out the pumpkin. This is the gross part. If you’re like me and hate getting your hands dirty, use a metal spoon or ice cream scooper to get the stringy, goopy mess out. I wish I had this pumpkin gutter tool. Scrape the sides that you’re going to carve as much as you can – the more you can scoop out the thinner the walls will be.
  5. Decide on your design. This is the fun part (or the stressful part if you’re a competitive perfectionist, ahem, you know who I’m talking to!) Yes, we’ve all seen the insane designs on Pinterest created by people with too much time on their hands. Relax. You don’t need to go quite as nuts as all that, and besides, those people use special tools (dremels? really??) Keep it simple, especially for your first pumpkin. Curved lines are harder to cut, which is why standard jack-o-lanterns have triangle eyes, square teeth, etc. You can spend time drawing it out on paper, or just jump straight to the next step.
  6. Transfer your design on to your pumpkin. A pumpkin may be round-ish, but there is definitely a better side to carve on – find it. Draw out your design, keeping in mind which pieces you want to cut out and which you will leave intact. If you have a complex design, you can use what you drew on your paper and transfer it to your pumpkin using a push-pin.
  7. Carve! I lied – step 3 isn’t the hard part, this is. But it’s also fun.  Make sure you have the right tools for the job. In the US they sell all sorts of kits with little safety knives for kids and fancy tools for intricate designs. In our (limited) experience where those don’t exist, we found that a short-handled, swiss army-type knife works best. Serrated edges are a must to saw through the thick pumpkin. You can cut roughly and go back and clean up edges later. If you make a mistake and cut off a part you meant to leave on, you can re-attach (kind of) with toothpicks. Just be careful – fake blood and gore is part of Halloween, but real severed limbs shouldn’t be.

  8. Light and enjoy. Fairly self-explanatory – stick a tea light in, light it up, turn off the lights, step back and watch your creation glow. Magical.

OPTIONAL EXTRA: Roast the pumpkin seeds (yum!) The easiest way to get the seeds off the stringy pumpkin guts is to do it right away as you’re pulling them out. Put them into a bowl, and when you’ve collected all you want, give them a thorough rinse in a colander and pick out any big pumpkin bits. Soak them in salt water overnight, and when drained coat them in a little butter or oil. Add any spices, sweet or salty, that you’d like. Lay them out in a single layer on a baking sheet and pop them in the oven at 120° C/250° F for about an hour, shaking/stirring every 10-15 minutes to make sure they’re evenly cooked. Eat. Yum.

WARM WEATHER MUST: Preserve your pumpkin. Something I’ve never had to deal with in MN is how best to preserve a pumpkin once it’s carved. In fact, I’d never thought about it until Nick asked how to keep them from rotting before Halloween. From researching various sources, the consensus seems to be that bleach is the way to go.
Who knew.

SA 101: Braai


braai [braɪ]
V: to grill or roast over an open fire
N: an event where something is cooked (usually meat) over an open fire, or physically what you cook on


“Come on over to my place on Sunday for a bring and braai” – come to my place with something to grill (preferably meat, see below…)

“We got together and braaied last weekend” – could also say we had a braai.

“Apologies, my braai is a bit dirty” – he hasn’t cleaned his grill…and will be judged by his fellow (backseat) braaiers.


The Afrikaans word braai (from braaivleis, or grilled meat) is one of the most commonly used words I’ve come across since I started hanging out with the SA crowd. The word has been verbed and its meaning widened substantially. Braaing is quite literally a national pastime: Heritage Day on Sept 24 has also been dubbed “National Braai Day”, as it seems that throwing some vleis on the braai is a form of entertainment that transcends nearly all ethnicities and social backgrounds. I had my first braai with an odd group of South Africans living in South Sudan – never mind there wasn’t meat to braai, they made a plan and imported some, and with plenty of beer it almost felt like home.

Similarly to the American barbeque, there are a lot of social norms surrounding the braai. Traditionally the braai is the doamin of men. That is to say, the men put the meat on the braai and stand around watching it cook, while the women make the salads and sides. Usually one of the guys is nominated as the braaier (either the person whose house the braai is at or the most experienced braair). While there is a lot of discussion over cooking the meat, it seems the rule is to defer to the designated braaier in decision-making (e.g. when the meat is ready to come off). The designated braaier may hand over the braai tongs to another guy if he needs another drink (heaven forbid no one has brought him one) or has to go to the bathroom, but unauthorized braaiers are not allowed to meddle in the cooking.  I can only report on these norms and customs as a third party observer, having never had the opportunity to crack the inner braai circle. Being a woman with fairly progressive male friends I have been allowed to hang around the braai and chat (as long as I have a beer in my hand), but not being much of a cook myself I have not stuck around to press my luck getting involved in the actual cooking ritual. I just chalk it up to a little male bonding.

There’s also the question of what you put on the braai. Boerwors and chops are standard, as are steaks and other red meat. I’ve been looked at like a crazy woman for suggesting we braai hamburgers, though – not done. Chicken is frowned upon (allegedly because of it’s different cooking time requirements) but according to the host of a braai I attended recently, “there’s always one in every group” who insists on  bringing it. Chicken kebabs are better than chicken breasts if you have to have poultry. Veggies generally cause all sorts of confusion. Many braai masters don’t have a clue about how to cook them and would rather send them into the kitchen to be cooked with the other sides. However, I know from experience that veggies CAN be braaied successfully, so I continue to push the boundaries here in SA on that one 🙂 Yes, I am that girl who brings the chicken, too.

Honestly, there’s not many better ways to spend a summer Sunday afternoon than braaiing with friends, drinking some beer and enjoying the weather.

2011: Transition

Reflecting back on the year, the word that sums up 2011 for me is “transition”.

Some of my personal and professional transitions are a direct result of intense self-evaluation, and some has come simply from changes in circumstance. But as the year comes to a close I am realizing that no matter how it has come about, I will start 2012 in a very different place than I was at in the beginning of 2011. It may not have been the most outwardly transformational year, but the changes I’ve made are significant in many ways and will profoundly impact where I go next.

2011 has seen my life transition in so many ways:

from expat –> to local: For the better part of the past decade, I have defined myself as an “expat” – a foreigner living abroad. While that label technically still applies, since moving to South Africa I’ve realized a real shift in the way that I see myself (if not yet in the way that others see me). Living the expat lifestyle has its challenges and benefits, but by-in-large you interact with other expats and often have a special set of privileges (salary, housing, leave) that sets you apart from the locals. You can never really feel permanent anywhere, even if you are there for years, as your friendships are largely transient and your work situation temporary. Here in Cape Town we have put down roots: bought a house and car, have pets and live near family. We really only have friends who are from SA and have no intention of moving on any time soon, and we sometimes talk about things like where we would send our hypothetical kids to school…in short, we LIVE here, we aren’t just BASED here for the next year or two. Granted, my American accent will always set me apart when I meet new people, but I am (slowly) being seen as “one of them”.  More importantly, I don’t always feel foreign. It’s nice to be home.

from aid worker –> to NGO consultant –> to writer & designer: To be honest, my professional transition has been closer to two+ years in the making, but I consciously made the effort to head in a particular direction in 2011. When I left my post in Liberia in 2010 I wasn’t exactly sure what I was going to do, or even what I wanted to do. I more or less fell into NGO consulting – it was mostly a continuation of the work that I did long-term in the field, although it was definitely rewarding and new territory to conquer. In 2011 I took a long, hard look at what I was doing and where I wanted to head, and took some major leaps towards my goals. I decided to refocus my work on what I liked most about my job – writing. I also actively pursued what had, until this year, been merely a hobby. I enrolled in a graphic design course, honed my technical skills and got my print design portfolio together. I spent the last few months of this year working full steam ahead to set a solid foundation for my new career path; thinking thorough what transferable skills I have and what unique expertise I bring to the table. Though I’m by no means there yet, and I’m not planning to make a completely clean break from my past work, I’m excited to continue my professional transition in 2012.

from girlfriend –> to fiancée (soon to be wife!): This one is still in the works, but we’ve come a long way! We’ve been together for years, so you wouldn’t necessarily think that this would be much of a transition, but I think this is perhaps the most daunting change for me. It is something that I cannot do on my own and that I can’t fully control – scary stuff. We’ve worked hard to lay the groundwork for a happy life together, but you never know the challenges we have to face in the future. I’m so lucky to have an amazing partner going through this transition with me.

from renter –> to homeowner: This is the most wholly satisfying transition I’ve made this year. Despite the enormous amount of work (and money) we’ve realized homeownership to be, it is so worth it to me to come home to a place that is ours, and to make long-term plans on how we can alter and improve our space. I’m really loving it.

from nomad –> to homebody: Again, this transition has been awhile in the making, but now the difference is that I actually have a home! It amazed me how little wanderlust I actually had this year. Every once and awhile I’d get the bug and pour over travel blogs and envy friends who had taken exotic trips, but for the most part I have had NO desire at all to travel just for travel’s sake. No need for endless “adventures” that can turn out to be major headaches. No need to go somewhere just because it is new and novel. Rather I’ve loved being in my house, my office, my town, having less-than-thrilling nights with friends, making plans, just being home. I’m sure I’ll get the bug again, but at the moment I’m just enjoying my new-found love of domestic pleasures.

What do I hope for 2012? I plan to continue on the paths that I’ve started myself on in 2011, and to successfully navigate the many transitions I know will lie ahead. I’m aiming to have the words fulfillment, contentment and achievement summarize my 2012.

Saying goodbye to Lucy

Nick and I had to make a terrible, awful decision in August last year to put our little kitten, Lucy, to sleep. I wrote here about her getting sick, but just couldn’t bring myself to write anything else as she fairly quickly got much, much sicker.

As Nick and I were coming to terms with the decision we knew we were going to have to make – it was only a matter of time – I wrote down a list of things that I would miss about Lucy, just to make sure I remembered all the little things we loved about her. In many ways, we have come to terms with losing her. In spite of everything, we know we gave our little rescue kitten the absolute best life she could have had for her short six months on earth. She was kissed, cuddled, fed (a lot), and generally spoiled. But most of all, loved. I thought, as a means of closure, I would share that list here along with a few more pics to remember her by.

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Things I’m going to miss about Lucy…
written 8/19/2010

  • Office time – since I work from home, I spend most of my time in our home office that Nick and I share. She has to be on our laps or computers most of the time (typical cat). Her computer skills are impressive – at one point she managed to shift ALL of the text and program windows on my computer screen sideways by sitting on my keyboard. She also sits in the window of the office and watches the world go by – the neighbor’s cats, the people on their way to the train – cowering any time there was the least bit of a loud noise (the kids scare her especially). She only fell out the window once.
  • Roadtripping – we bring her with us to Nick’s parent’s place so she doesn’t have to stay home alone, and that means frequent road trips. As soon as we’re in the car and on the road we let her out of her carrier so she doesn’t yowl. She crawls all over the car, exploring, and ends up in the back window where we’d get such great looks from the people in car behind, perches on my shoulder or sits on Nick’s lap and try to help him drive.
  • Monkey-mode – she gets all riled up, running up and down the house, chasing her favorite toys (cable ties), racing up and down the cushions on the back of the couch, and when she gets particularly hyper she would ‘monkey’ – spreads her toes, poof her tail, hop at you kind of sideways in an attempt to intimidate you, breathing heavily, sometimes giving a little spit – so funny!
  • Blankie – her grey blankie is her favorite thing in the world,  her security blanket. She adopted it from the first day we got her, crawling onto it to suckle and ‘make pudding’. We think she must have been the runt of the litter, the bottom-feeder of the bunch, because she always kneaded blankie way above her head. She’d get so purry and happy, zoning into Stevie Wonder mode where she’d kind of sway her head back and forth in a figure eight. We joke it is the only way to slow her down when she gets into ‘hyper-mode’ is to put blankie into her path, since she couldn’t run over the blanket without stopping to ‘make-pudding’ on it.
  • Her big, Puss-in-Boots eyes that could make me do anything – she just gives me this look and I somehow want to give her food, pick her up and pet her, you name it.
  • When she was a tiny kitten she was absolutely MAD about her food. She would run in circles meowing frantically, climbing Nick’s leg to get to the countertops, a total nut. I’ll miss the way she never quite eats neatly, and has food stuck to her little beard she couldn’t quite get off (she didn’t have a mom to teach her those things, you know). Later she wouldn’t eat unless she was sitting on the scratching post (it is too cold on the concrete floor to sit on for too long), and you HAVE to pet her while she eats or she’ll keep looking around for you. You can’t be too far away! She also LOVES her Greenies, the little treats we give her.
  • I’ll miss her cute markings – her one white foot, one black, the orange leopard spots on her white belly, her little white eyelashes, the whiskers that never quite grew back fully after she singed them, the little crooked-looking smile – she has a half pink mouth which you can especially see when she’s meowing…just so cute.
  • That darn tail – she just can’t get away from it, it keeps following her around! It would come out of nowhere and hit her in the face when she was trying to sleep.  She only recently learned that she has to tuck it under her paw to keep it under control. It also was in a near-permanent bottle-brush state (all poofed up – it would get that way whenever she freaks herself out (a regular occurrance).
  • Sleeping with us – she was so little when we got her, we let her sleep on her grey blankie between our heads every night. She purrs so loud most nights that she wakes me up at some point. Also, if you get to close to her face at night, she will lick and lick and lick your face – especially your nose. You can’t get her to stop until she falls back asleep! When she gets really cold she burrows under the covers and sleeps in the crook of Nick’s knees – ‘prickly side in’ Nick says
  • She couldn’t get enough of people – part of having been bottle-fed from a tiny kitten, I guess. She would perch on Nick’s shoulder as long as he would let her, curl up on my lap for hours on end. The thing I will miss probably the most is the ‘I love you’ look she gives you, looking up at you while sitting on the desk, purring, wanting kisses on her head. Her little head bumps to get you to pay attention to her. Just pure love.
  • I will desperately miss coming home and saying ‘where’s my Lucy?’, only to have her run out of wherever she was sleeping (usually the blankie on the bed) and greeting me with the happiest meows. Sigh.
As I write this it is comforting to have the two newest additions to our household, Mia and Ollie, curled up beside me. But it doesn’t make it any less painful to write these words – after losing our first kitten, Squeekers, just the August before, we had only just opened up our hearts again, and it still hurts. It’s never easy to lose friends, whether furry or otherwise!

So long 2010…

2010 was a good year.

As cheesy as it sounds, I’ve always liked that New Years gives me a chance to reflect on the year that is coming to a close. In the rush of daily life it’s easy to get caught up in the problems, the little irritations. But looking at the year as a whole, 2010 has really  been a banner year for Nick and I (I’m taking liberties here, but I’m sure he’d agree). A friend asked how I would describe my year in 5 words: I’d say change, transition, fear, contentment, and rooted. Yeah, a little contradictory, but I guess that’s my world!

In 2010 we made South Africa home – Nick for the first time in many years and me for the first time ever. We found our feet in the city, exploring new neighborhoods, meeting new friends and reconnecting with old ones. We enjoyed being close to one part of our family, while finding ways to stay close to the other. I started a new chapter in my professional life, rediscovering some passion in my job hidden under layers of exhaustion and frustration, and learned that I love working for myself. Nick also made strides professionally with his new job. I read some great books, travelled to exciting places, spent relaxing evenings at home doing nothing. We were loved and entertained by our little Lucy, for however short a time. We bought a house – by far our biggest accomplishment of the year, and one that we’ll be able to enjoy for years to come.

For 2011? Sure, I’d like to make some new, healthy habits both for my body and mind. I’d like to create explore even more career opportunities. But mostly I want to continue to enjoy the little things, the small happinesses that fill up the days. It isn’t always easy,  but if we lose track of those little things we miss out on what it’s all about, right? It’s not an earth-shattering resolution, but in the end it’s everything.

Happy New Year!

Tying to DIY (in South Africa)

I never thought I’d say this, but I miss Home Depot.

I am my mother’s daughter – hardware stores are fun, and bohemoths like Home Depot are just aisles and aisles of possible new projects. Not that I’ve really ever been much of a DIY-er, a combination of not having a home to fix up and a innate klutziness have kept me from following that path. Of course, I have grand aspirations – I constantly read blogs and watch shows about DIY home improvement projects, own drills and tools (granted they’re now ancient and in a storage unit in MN somewhere), and avoid buying things because ‘I could make that!’.

However, fate is conspiring against me ever becoming a DIY-goddess. Aside from the fact that I can’t draw a straight line much less cut one, being in South Africa has rendered the few DIY skills I have learned useless. Even simple things like hanging pictures? Nope, no luck here. The walls here are all brick or concrete, so you need a fancy mason drill which makes a hell of a noise that scares the crap out of me and puts giant holes in the walls, which makes my trial-and-error approach to drilling far from ideal. It also makes  my stud-finding skills are unmarketable. Things like putting in shelving (which shouldn’t be rocket science right?) is made SO much more difficult by the fact that I simply can’t find the materials I need. SA’s version of Home Depot, Builder’s Warehouse, leaves MUCH to be desired. They carry a little bit of everything, but it’s all such low quality and there is no variety at all. We tried to find some simple shelves we could install in our bedroom, but in the massive store there was only one teeny-tiny aisle with about four options to choose from – small, big, bigger. It seems like for anything more sophisticated you have to find a specialty shop which usually involves costly fitting of said shelf. Sigh.

Lighting is another example – not exactly DIY but home-decor rant in general. I must have visited a million lighting shops to find replacements for the hideous wall lights in our living room. They all seem to have the exact same, nondescript stock. Unless I want to spend a million bucks for something fancy, it seems like the ‘umbrellas’ (as Nick calls them) will stay for lack of a better option. I’m probably being a bit harsh, but it feels like I can’t ever find what I’m looking for here. I guess it comes from having grown up in a place with such an amazing variety of everything, and also the fact that it takes time to get to know what brand reputations are, what shops carry which products, etc. Things I’ve spent a lifetime learning in the US.

If I can just find the right materials, I have hope that Nick and I can be a great DIY team. Nick has proven to be darn handy around the house, and also a possible DIY-guru in the making. Seeing as I have no skills myself, I was hesitant to mention projects, not wanting to seem like I was just coming up with a list of things for him to do. But I’ve heard him mutter more than once on a visit to another over-priced furniture shop, ‘I could totally make that!’. Promising. Plus, he’s king of teaching himself how to do things online. I can see this working out well – I do the searching for style ideas, and Nick executes the plans…I’m not sure how he’ll feel about this!

For now, I’ve decided to start with painting. Painting is something I consider myself pretty expert at, having painted more than my fair share of apartments. (Note: I never said color selection was my forte- I now concede that the traffic cone shade of orange I chose for the bedroom of my first apartment may have been a mistake). I might break down and hire someone to paint the walls, but I’ve got all sorts of plans for painting and staining old furniture in creative ways. Now, all I have to do is find out where I can buy the old junk…

A room of my own

I’m writing to you live(-ish) from….drumroll…my very own office! In our new house! Yay!! (yes, over-use of exclamation points, but I thought it deserved the extra excitement).

For some people becoming consultant or working from home is a conscious choice. Fed up with the 9-5, they choose to give it a go, working from home, being their own boss. Making that step is huge, but it seems to me that most people don’t enter into the choice lightly, and do a lot of thinking about how they will make it work for them. I, however, sort of unintentionally fell into self-employment. All I knew for sure when I left Liberia was that the stress of 12+ hour days everyday, not  having a real home to unpack in, constantly needing to make new friends as your good ones moved onto different assignments – it just was NOT fun anymore. I had to leave my job or lose my sanity (and health). I didn’t give a ton of thought to what I was going to do when I got to South Africa – I had some vague ideas, but didn’t really have the brainpower for the first few months to really do any really thinking.

So it came as a bit of a surprise when it dawned on me that I’ve actually become a freelance consultant. And that somehow I have more work than I want. I know enough not to take that for granted – it’s a fickle world, freelancing. But it does feel nice to have a few clients who seem quite happy (dare I say impressed) with my work, including my former employer.  I’m still not 100% sure what to call myself, though I guess I would say freelance writer – very tentatively, however, because a) my assignments involve writing plus all the random things the client wants help with and b) it just feels odd to call myself a writer.

All that is a long segue into the main topic of this post – my new office. In our last little cottage space was at a premium. I mean, it wasn’t NY apartment size, but for two people who are home an awful lot (and all their ‘gear’) it was a bit tight. Nick and I shared a lovely little office, but the nature of his work is that he can be off quite a bit during the week. And likewise, the nature of my work is such that I don’t really have any set hours, just crazy deadlines for writing projects. And Nick, when he is off, spends a lot of time on his computer, doing research, teaching himself new things or, of course, playing computer games (he’s a nerd at heart). Now, to Nick’s credit, he tried. He really really did. And in fact I couldn’t have asked for a better office-mate. And believe me, I’ve had some crazies. But when I’m deep into ‘proposaling’ or hitting a deadline, I just need quiet. Space to think. I get stressed, and then easily distracted, then cranky…not a good combo. I also find that having my office just steps from the bedroom, kitchen, and other nice distractions is tricky.

But in our new house we have PLENTY of space. Maybe it just feels that way because we have no furniture. Anyway, as of today I officially have my own office, with a door and everything! In our new, fabulous house we have a long, skinny room on the side of the yard with tiled floors and a window opening onto the garden. I’m not sure what the original builders intended for it, but the real estate agent told us it would be the perfect place for our live-in nanny when we have kids (yes, I live in South Africa, things are a bit different than the US). We didn’t really know what to do with it, but after unsuccessfully trying out my office in the front bedroom for a few weeks in the middle of a hectic deadline (only realizing midway through that the room actually didn’t have a door,) I decided that the room out back would be perfect for my office. Nick agreed. So he helped me move everything out here after my crazy deadline was over last night, and this afternoon I’ve gotten to spend my first time here writing.

It needs some work – first off, we have to do something to hide all the ‘storage’ (read=junk) that we’ve piled at the other end of the room. And I need to make it a bit more homey, get some bookshelves, a rug, lamps, etc. There’s a chunk missing from the ceiling cornice, and now that it started raining I hear a loud dripping sound that I think (hope) is outside and which could make me have to run inside for the bathroom every five minutes. But (can I say this again?) – it’s my own office! I love it. Ipod speakers are set up. Internet connection seems to be working well. Computer is struggling by on its’ last legs. I guess that’s all I need! I must say, I’m pretty darn lucky to have this space.


Lucy the parrot

Lucy hasn’t been feeling very well lately. Her eye was a bit cloudy, so we took her to the vet a couple of times who put her on medicine for it, but it didn’t get better. Meanwhile, she was sleeping more than usual, had little energy and didn’t want to eat. We decided to bring her to an eye specialist just to get it checked out, assuming that the infection was causing all the other issues too.

Unfortunately, he didn’t give us very good news. It seems like little Lucy has what is known as Feline Infectious Peritonitis – Nick could only remember it because he thought that might be what was making her sit on our shoulders like a little parrot! All jokes aside, FIP is a mutation of the very common coronavirus – most likely she got it from her mother before we ever met her. It is incredibly hard to diagnose, since it presents with all sorts of different symptoms, but the vets say they are about 99.9% sure it is what she has. The worst part is that it is pretty much always fatal, especially in kittens her age and size.

We don’t know at all how long we have with her. The vets assume she doesn’t have the acute form, since she would probably already have died from it, but even the chronic form probably doesn’t give her much time. She is going to go on a course of steroids to help prolong and improve her life, but again it doesn’t give us any guarantees. We’re trying to stay positive and focus on the fact that she has had a very happy 6 months living with us, and that she has made out lives richer for being in it. But the truth is both Nick and I are heartbroken at the thought of having to lose another little kitten. She is more than just a pet, she is part of our family. I’m trying to enjoy however much time we have left with her and not focus on the future, but it’s not easy.

International House Hunters, Cape Town Edition

I was starting to feel a little like I was starring in a Cape Town edition of my Mom’s favorite TV show, International House Hunters. Despite the fact that we don’t actually get HGTV, we did manage to follow the plot pretty well – we’ve recently moved to the country, don’t know much about the real estate market, our real estate agent found us three houses to view, and we made a decision to buy one of those! Though that wasn’t at all how we had seen it play out in our heads…

Since we didn’t know much about buying a house in South Africa, we used SA Homebuyers. A few days after we contacted them, our agent contacted us to show us a few properties. On that Friday we saw one that had all we wanted in terms of bedrooms, garden space (when they say garden here it doesn’t necessarily mean it has flowers…it can just be grass or a pool, basically what we call a yard), but it was a bit odd in that there seemed to be a second house tacked on to the first that you arrived at through a narrow, galley-like kitchen. The second was a ‘cottage’ just down the street where we are now – it seemed like it would be a great place if you were willing to do some major rehab, but it was a bit daunting to us first-time home buyers. We managed to see a third property on Saturday – this one wasn’t even on the market yet! We literally walked in and were sold. It has a really great open plan living room/kitchen/dining room area, two bedrooms downstairs plus an addition of a master bedroom upstairs, not to mention three baths. It has a big garden but it looks pretty low maintenance, has a back patio PLUS a deck off the upstairs bedroom. The best part might be the gorgeous mountain views from the bedroom deck – SO nice, or maybe that the living space is north facing so gets great light.  It is located in pretty much the same neighborhood we are in now, which we love. We’d expected we would have to look for quite some time to find something we loved in our price range, so we weren’t prepared – at first we thought we should hold off and look some more, but the more we thought about we realized we wouldn’t be able to find anything comparable. So we called up our guy, and said we wanted to make an offer. That was on Sunday.

After a tense few days of negotiations (how do they always manage to do it in just an hour on HGTV?!) our offer was finally accepted on Wednesday! It all happened so fast – I almost couldn’t believe we’d just bought a house! Well, in reality we hadn’t – they do things a bit backward here, so rather than being pre-approved for a loan of a certain amount, you can only apply once you’ve agreed to buy a place…so it took us another couple of very tense weeks to jump through all those hoops. Many of the banks didn’t want to give us the loan because I am a foreigner and apparently too much of a risk, or because I don’t have a credit rating here (well, duh – we just moved and plus they won’t give me a credit card here…). I’d given up hope of being able to finance this great house, when we found out today that luckily our own bank saw the sense of giving us the loan. So now we’re officially homeowners!!

I’ve added in a few pics we took – since the place wasn’t really on the market, the owners were nice enough to let us take some to share with you all, so pardon the laundry.

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10, 9, 8, 7…



I heard someone the other day asking ‘where are you going to be on New Years Eve?’ and it took me a few minutes to realize what they were talking about. People here have been referring to the World Cup as ‘2010’ since it was announced it was being held here in SA, and since it’s now over that means that 2010 is also over, hence the New Years! I thought it was pretty funny.

It has been really amazing to be here for this World Cup. Whether or not you’re a soccer fan, it has been great to see South Africans really rallying behind their team and also welcoming all the visitors. I’m really, really proud of the country for pulling this off – there were so many naysayers along the way. It’s been pretty moving watching South Africans put flags on their cars, wear their yellow Bafana Bafana jerseys every Friday, doing the fan walk by the thousands down to the stadium on game days, packing the bars and fan fests, singing their national anthem on the trains home from games and just generally showing their gees (spirit). I’m pretty darn happy with the outcome (viva España!!) but no matter who had won it would have been pretty cool to be part of all this. I know it sounds a bit cheesy, but seriously, it’s been great! Who knew soccer could give me such a warm, fuzzy feeling? 😉

4th of July, CPT style

The 4th of July has never been my favorite holiday. Mainly because I seriously dislike fireworks, and that’s kinda the main event of the day. Ok, it’s probably more accurate to say I have a desperate fear of fireworks – who knows why, but I can’t seem to get over it no matter how old I get.

Anyways, I’ve actually really enjoyed the last few 4ths. We celebrated one in Liberia, (no fireworks), last year in Louisiana (with fabulous music to drown out the fireworks), and this year we had our first 4th of July party in SA (again, no fireworks). I was excited to share a uniquely American day with my new friends here in Cape Town.

There were a few problems. First, it’s winter here. I wanted to have a good ‘ole hot dog and hamburger BBQ (NOT braii), but I wasn’t sure if the weather would cooperate. Very luckily, it did – it was sunny and warm the whole day! Second problem – food. You can’t just go buy normal hot dogs. I had to navigate amongst all the many types of ‘viennas’, sausages, etc. I found some tasty chicken viennas, but they weren’t the same as a big, juicy dog. And I almost had a little meltdown trying to make chocolate chip cookies. I tried explaining to Nick that I didn’t know how to make them unless I had the recipe on the back of the Toll House chocolate chips package – I’d never thought to write it down, because I never imagined a world without Tollhouse! Luckily I managed to find them in a shop that has a lot of American import stuff, so the cookies were a hit. And yes, I did actually make them – I only saved a little dough to eat 🙂 Third problem –  beer. Nick had requested some genuine American brew, but alas nothing could be found. We did manage to find some Miller (brewed by SAB but still American), some Coronas (not American but close enough) and some Boston lager, a local micro-brew. Did the trick!

After all that, we had a great day. Just a few friends enjoying the unseasonably nice weather, the patio doors open wide, little Sarah dunking everything she could get her hands on into the pond (almost including Lucy) – it was a great day.

Another victim of ambiance

This time curiosity didn’t kill the cat, but it didn’t do her any good, either.

Picture this – hyped-up Lucy tearing around the house, as usual. As she completes her first circuit, she comes to a screeching halt in front of the small, flaming thing in the center of the coffee table. Inching closer, then closer again, she wants to make sure she gets a good look. Sniffing, she suddenly starts blinking furiously and backing up, shaking her head back and forth.

I laughed at her antics as usual, only later realizing that three or four of the whiskers on the right side of her face were curled up and singed from her encounter with the candle. Oops. They’re growing out a bit, but she still looks a bit lopsided. I don’t think she’s learned her lesson, though. She nearly roasted herself on the braii the other night, and she has made a habit of sitting dangerously close to the flames coming off our gas heater. Brilliant.

World Cup hangover…

Whew. I never realized that being a sports fan could be such hard work.

I’ve followed all sorts of sports over the years when I’ve been able to – watched Wimbledon religiously, sat glued to the tv for even the most obscure Olympic sports, gotten up at odd hours to watch March Madness from halfway across the globe, sat on the edge of my seat while my team failed to make the Superbowl (again), cheered madly for the underdog at the World Series, danced in the streets as the local team won the European Cup, egged on rowdy hockey players, and cheered my adopted country on to victory in the other World Cup (rugby). I’ve even met friends to have a pint and watch the soccer before work during the last World Cup.

But I’ve never been as caught up in the sporting event fever as I have been here in SA. It’s almost impossible to ignore it, actually. Even friends who are avowed soccer haters have gotten into the spirit. We’ve taken the train into town with blowing vuvuzelas and joined the masses heading to the matches, staked out our spot with the rowdies at the fan parks, and spent numerous afternoons and evenings at sports pubs cheering loudly for our teams. As much as I love a big event, however, I must admit that it’s taking a lot out of me. It’s hard work having to go out and watch the games with friends every night, drinking a few pints and cheering loudly. I’m still watching all the games, but they’ve worn me down a bit. Maybe it’s the fact that all the teams I was cheering loudest for are out of the tournament already – it was heartbreaking to see Bafana Bafana lose, even though it wasn’t a surprise, and then the US’s loss last week – while I was happy that Ghana was able to keep the hopes of the continent alive and I’ll definitely be cheering for them in their match against Uruguay (my least favorite team), it was sad to see all the US supporters looking so dejected at the loss! But it’s actually been a bit of a relief not to have as much of a vested interest any more – now I can just sit back and enjoy the party! I’ll be ready when July 11 rolls around, though – the World Cup has really been all that anyone has been doing/talking about/watching for the last few weeks (actually, longer – the build up here in SA has been going on for at least a year). And unlike the tourists here visiting, we actually have to try and hold down our day jobs at the same time!

Ah, tough life, hey? Don’t you feel sorry for little ‘ole me? Ok, I’ll stop complaining. I have a match to watch tonight!

More Lucy pics

Due to popular demand, I’ve added a few more pictures of Lucy! Nick has been giving me kitty updates while I’ve been gone – she got her vaccines, visited the Grandparents and met the other cats and dogs, and this morning apparently dove headfirst into the pond in our garden! Pretty funny stuff. I’m looking forward to getting back and witnessing her antics in person – though apparently she doesn’t let Nick get much sleep these days…

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World Cup Madness…

The World Cup has finally arrived.

Ever since I moved to SA, the WC has been on everyone’s minds. Most people I know were more irritated than anything about the event – traffic, tourists, high airfare, etc. But now that the opening day is here, I’m so glad that everyone seems to have embraced the madness! I SO wish I was there for the opening matches – Nick sending me updates and pictures from where he is watching it down at the Waterfront with friends, and he says the vibe is just electric.I’m sporting my bright yellow Bafana Bafana shirt (supporting SA’s team) today, and will catch the US-England match at the Brit club tomorrow, but it’s just not the same as being in SA. Especially since I’m supposed to working – I have to try to figure out how to get back to the hotel to catch the match!

I hope all of you back in the States watch a match or two – especially the ones in Cape Town! You’ll get to see a bit of the beautiful country I call home. If you haven’t already, check out photos and updates on fifa.com. I can’t wait to get back on Monday!

Welcoming Lucy!

About a week ago we stopped by the Animal Welfare Society in Stellenbosch to see if they had any kittens (dangerous, I know). We’d been talking for quite awhile about getting a little fuzz-ball, and when we walked into the cattery and saw little Lucy we fell in love. She had climbed up the wall of the cage, meowing furiously, trying to stick her nose and paws through the holes to touch us. She has such a big personality!

Lucy and her litter-mates were found on the side of the highway with no mother cat, and the AWB bottle-fed and fostered them. Because of this she is extremely affectionate and used to people. She’s only 6 1/2 weeks old, but they wanted to adopt her out as soon as possible as the kennels are getting very cold at night and the foster mother was getting a bit fed up.  She was under observation for about a week, as they were worried that she wasn’t eating enough. When we called them yesterday they happily told us that the hunger strike was over, and that she was in fact now eating like a piggy! Lucy obviously misses her mom and the other kittens – she doesn’t seem to want to be away from us at all and has found a surrogate in one of our fleece blankets. She sleeps in the crook of your arm or any other warm place near you – right now she is curled up in the back of Nick’s sweatshirt hood while he works at his computer, in fact.

It was bitter-sweet getting a new kitty – while she is the cutest thing, she does make me miss my little Squeekers. But it is so nice to have a (very loudly) purring kitten in our house again. Not sure how Fang will take it when he next comes to visit, but he’ll just have to get used to her! At the moment she is so tiny she’s got to be far from threatening.

Ok, I’ll stop now – I don’t usually get this gushy, but she is so cute! I’ll let the pics speak for themselves.

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