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.

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Lucy

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…

…6,5,4,3,2,1…

HAPPY NEW YEARS!

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!