Artisan chocolate, wine estates and family reunions

So, about 3 weeks ago, we had visitors!

First, Cousin Mike spent a few days with us… and after he had left, Nick’s brother (Dino) arrived with his two girls, Danni & Gabi.

Morgan and Joah adore their cousins and had been really missing them, so it was a very exciting treat to have the girls come to stay for a week.  Nick’s parents flew in for a few days as well.

One of the (many) things I love about Cape Town is how MUCH there is to do here.  Much of Cape Town’s life-blood is tourism and there are many, many wonderful things to do and see.  First stop was the beach.  Morgan and Joah were super-excited to show Gabi and Danni “their” beach.  There was much running, playing and burying each other in sand…

The 4 cousins high-speeding towards the sea...

The 4 cousins high-speeding towards the sea…

The sea - yay!

The sea – yay!

The girls in their element...

The girls in their element…

Gabi making a sand mermaid tail for Joah...

Gabi making a sand mermaid tail for Joah…

Family fun on Long Beach...

Family fun on Long Beach…

The following day, we decided to take a drive to Somerset West to visit Vergelegen Wine Estate.    Vergelegen is a real treat.  As with most of Cape Town’s wine estates…  it’s not just a farm with vineyards.  There’s 2 restaurants, beautiful picnic spots, wine tours and wine tasting, a kid’s playground, a historic manor house and museum… and gardens….  beautiful, beautiful gardens…. with fountains and ancient camphor trees… and so much more!

Here’s some photos:

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(Above) – This is the restaurant where we had lunch.  It’s surrounded by gorgeous gardens, fountains… and this lovely view (Joah’s bum notwithstanding):

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There’s also a lovely play area for the kids…

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After lunch, we took a stroll around the gardens.  The old manor house is a real treat and had me ooooh’ing and aaaaah’ing….  and then, there were the camphor trees.  The massive 300 year old camphor trees… (which I instantly fell in love with)…

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Dino and the kids on one of the camphor trees...

Dino and the kids on one of the camphor trees…

And ancient oaks too…

The kids exploring the inside of Africa's oldest oak tree (planted somewhere between 1700 and 1706)...

The kids exploring the inside of Africa’s oldest oak tree (planted somewhere between 1700 and 1706)…

And here’s a photo of the kids and I with my brother-in-law, Dino…  my mother-in-law… and my 2 neices (Nick is taking the photo):

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More niceness at the Wine Estate (including my awesome male)… :-)

More niceness at the Wine Estate (including my awesome male)… 🙂

Another place we visited (with Dino and the girls)… was The Spice Route.

We first stopped for lunch at Fairview Wine & Cheese Estate (next door to Spice Route).  It was a truly beautiful setting…. and there was a bakery… and dairy… and a goat tower… and a shop selling all kinds of yummy delicacies.  My only regret was that we went on a Sunday – and it was packed with people.  Packed!  Next time, I’ll take the kids on a week day… and we’ll go and watch how goats are milked and how cheese is made.

After lunch, we hopped over to The Spice Route next door.  Oh – I LOVE it there!  It’s like a mini village of shops and restaurants all offering various, made-on-the-premises goodies and treats.

Cousins, fountains & fish...

Cousins, fountains & fish…

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La Grapperia pizza restaurant is one of the venues at the Spice Route… (next time, we’ll eat lunch there)…

We decided to stop over at the coffee and chocolate place – DV Artisan Chocolate, Roastery & Espresso Bar… and…. omigosh…!  It was such a treat!  I’m definitely going back (when there are less people!)…

The chocolate is made on site… and you can stand and drool next to big, glass windows while the machines churn big pots of melted chocolate before your eyes.  You can also do a chocolate tasting…  I guess it’s like wine tasting… where a clever person who know a lot about chocolate tells you all about the different flavours and textures and how everything is made.  (I would have signed up for that – but there were just way too many people that day).

We decided to sit down and order some coffee and chocolatey things…  yum!  Here’s some pics:

Joah is clearly enjoying the home-made chocolate ice-cream...

Joah is clearly enjoying the home-made chocolate ice-cream…

Some of the artisan chocolate on offer at DV's...

Some of the artisanal chocolate on offer at DV’s…


During the same week, my mom was in Cape Town.  She was staying with her friend, but we decided to meet up for a morning, strolling around Kirstenbosch Gardens (another one of those must-do places in Cape Town).  Mom had brought along some prezzies for Morgan and Joah… and hit the jackpot with a French knitter and some wool for Morgan… (who has regularly kept at it ever since).  Here’s some pics:

Morgan with her gift-from-Granny… a French knitting gadget...

Morgan with her gift-from-Granny… a French knitting gadget…

She just kept knitting while we walked… and every time we stopped, she'd find a little spot in the sun… and knit!

She just kept knitting while we walked… and every time we stopped, she’d find a little spot in the sun… and knit!

Joah pretending to be dead.

Joah enjoying the soft grass.

Me, Mom and the kids… at beautiful Kirstenbosch Gardens.

Me, Mom and the kids… at beautiful Kirstenbosch Gardens.

It was lovely seeing my mom again.  I would like her to come and stay with us for a whole week… and I would definitely like to take her to visit the Spice Route.  Another person I’m desperately missing is my sister.  I haven’t seen Soo since late October last year!  We were packing up for our 2-month US Road Trip… and Soo was in Nigeria on business.  When we touched base in Joburg earlier this year, Soo was in Nigeria again.  So we keep missing each other – and now I really miss her!  I’d love to have a good catch up over some coffee and something yummy.

Travel has it’s many pro’s…  but missing friends and family (wherever they are in the world) is always the downside.

Anyway… before Dino and the girls headed back to Joburg, we got to take all of the kids to the aquarium and also for a boat tour around Cape Town harbour.

The cousins and the clown fish at the Cape Town Aquarium...

The cousins and the clown fish at the Cape Town Aquarium…


And they loved the boat tour, of course!

And they loved the boat tour, of course!

It was actually quite funny (on the day we took the kids on the boat tour).  Nick had to fly back to Joburg for a meeting so Dino and I ended up taking the kids.  The boat tour guide got the idea that I was “Mommy” and Dino was “Daddy”… and that all four kids were mine!  Eeek!

Needless to say… Morgan and Joah had a marvellous and very happy time with Cousin Mike, Yia-Yia, Papou, Granny, Nano (the name they call Dino)… and Cousins.  Now they’re nagging me for time with Matt & Erin… and Adelaide… and have told me that they also miss Isabelle and Grace (in Ohio!)… and they want to see Keren again… and why does cousin Kyra have to live so far… and when can they visit the Karoo to see Edwina again…. etc… etc…

Like I say, this travel-thing has it’s pros and cons.  Missing people is the hardest part.

Our home for the next few months is here…

So…  here we are, tucked away in a little corner of the Southern Peninsula of Cape Town… in the village of Noordhoek.

Our apartment is perched just below a mountain.  The towering cliffs of Chapman’s Peak are behind us… and, in front of us, the vast expanse of Cape fynbos… the long, white sands of Long Beach… and, of course, the beautiful (and icy!) Atlantic Ocean, crashing on the shores nearby.

What a treat it is to wake up here.  What a privilege to enjoy my morning coffee whilst gulping in the beautiful view.   How blessed I am to be able to sit here… while my kids happily play lego in a sunbeam on the floor… listening to the sounds of their laughter and the waves crashing on the shores just a couple of metres away…

We don’t have much in the way of stuff.

We have a small pile of clothes… we have some toiletries… there’s a drawer of art materials, a picnic basket full of learning books and activities… a few toys (including the big box of lego)… a few games…. computers… camera… and that’s about it.

It all managed to fit in our tiny Renault Modus on the drive down – and it’s all we need.

Our home for the next couple of months comes fully furnished… so… really, we lack for nothing – including things to see, do and experience.


I was born in Cape Town.  Mowbray Maternity Home in November 1972, that’s where I entered the world.  I also spent the first few years of my childhood in Cape Town (my dad moved us inland to Joburg when I was about to start Grade 2).

So… maybe it’s just nostalgia… but there has always been *something* about Cape Town that connects with me on a deep level.  I love being here… I love waking up here…  and I am super-chuffed that this will be our home for the next 3 – 4 months.

So… anyway… this is just a quick and happy little post (before I take the kids to Kirstenbosch Gardens for a picnic).

Here’s some photos of our first couple of days in our Noordhoek Nest:

The view from our window...

The view from our window…

Imhoff Farm (just down the road) - great place for yummy food, beautiful views and loads of fun things for kids to do  (can you see the horse and carriage in the background?)...

Imhoff Farm (just down the road) – great place for yummy food, beautiful views and loads of fun things for kids to do (can you see the horse and carriage in the background?)…

Perfect play area in the kitchen / lounge...

Perfect play area in the kitchen / lounge…

Proteas - my favourite flower.  I LOVE them… and they grow right here, in this region.  :-)

Proteas – my favourite flower. I LOVE them… and they grow right here, in this region. 🙂

There's a lovely little petting zoo down the road...

There’s a lovely little petting zoo down the road…

Joah really bonded with this little goat.  He now says it's *his* goat… and he wants to visit it every day!

Joah really bonded with this little goat. He now says it’s *his* goat… and he wants to visit it every day!

Our afternoon beach walks… it's my favourite time of day.

Our afternoon beach walks… it’s my favourite time of day.

… and a photo from this morning.  :-)

… and a photo from this morning. 🙂

So…  do I miss Joburg?

Do I miss our big house?  Do I miss all the stuff we purged?  Do I miss the old life… the way things used to be?

Well… no.

There are things about Joburg that I miss (people in particular)… (and my favourite coffee shops)… (and the divine weather!)…

But I am SO glad… almost relieved even… that we chose this journey.  And that we’re here now.

Nick and I were walking hand-in-hand on the beach the other day… and he asked:  “Does this feel real to you?  Has it sunk in yet – that we’re actually doing this… that we’re actually here?”

I’m still trying to figure out how to respond to that question.


Cathedrals, Monasteries and a creepy, dead child

This post continues from here.

Once back in Washington DC… we decided to explore the museums and the magnificent landmarks.  DC is full of beautiful buildings and I let out gasps of awe everywhere we drove (I have a *thing* for grand buildings and architecture from eras gone by).

We decided to visit some churches, crypts and graveyards (long-time readers of this blog will know that we also have a *thing* for graveyards – and especially the really old ones).

First up was the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land.  What’s interesting about this monastery is that they have replicas of many shrines found in the Holy Land… like, many replicas… and all very beautifully done.

We went on a tour… gawked at the magnificent architecture and artwork (including some of the most beautiful mosaics I’ve laid eyes on)… and the kids asked a lot of questions like this:

“What’s this stuff even for, Mom?”

And like this:

Offspring:  “Mommy, what’s a replica?”

Me: “A replica is a copy of the real thing.  So these tombs are replicas of tombs found in Israel”

Offspring:  “So they’re not real?”

Me:  “No”

Offspring:  “So they’re fake?”

Me:  “I guess so… yes”

Offspring:  “Why did they build all these fake things in this church?”

(try telling a 5 year old and an 8 year old the answers to those questions)…

Anyhoo…. change of subject… here’s some pretty pics:

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Our tour guide spoke very matter-of-factly about the church and the shrines and the stories they represented… and I felt both intrigued (and a bit annoyed) at how *certain* he was about the “Answers” to the Big Questions.

Because so many… many…. MANY… people claim to *know* The Truth… The Answers… The Right Way… (and yet, the Knowers all contradict each other at the same time)….

“You’re wrong, I’m right!”…

“No!  You’re wrong, I’m right!”…  (and on and on it goes… an infinite battle of religious opinion – everyone believing that *they* hold the “Right” answers about God – and that everyone else is wrong, deceived or misled…)

If tours around religious shrines and churches teach me anything – it’s how to Question… and I try to hold my beliefs and opinions with a very open hand…

As for the kids – the most fascinating part of the tour came in the form of a dead child.  This dead child (whom the guide told us was martyred-for-Christ)… has since been declared a Saint (by the church Powers-That-Be).  As a result… the child’s dead, blackened corpse… encased in a glass coffin with various kitsch embellishments… is regularly visited and prayed to… and the coffin glass is regularly kissed and mauled by the devout… and…  jeez, I have to be honest, I don’t know what to do with information like this.

But then again, each to his own, I guess.

Maybe some religious people find it comforting to pray at the leathery remnants of a child…  I just found it weird… and eerie.

But that’s just me.

Here’s a pic of Saint Innocentius.  The corpse has been dressed up in an outfit and a wax mask (of a sleeping, peaceful face) has been placed over the dead face.  There’s also a wig and a crown and a halo.  The hands and feet, however, can still be seen.

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The monastery also keeps a collection bones of another saint (can’t remember whom) in their crypt.  The bones and body parts are cubed together in a decorated canister.  Apparently, the head of the person-in-question was misplaced… but there are still remnants… and people still come to pray there – and ask the bones for special favours.


I am being a bit facetious.  I don’t mean to ridicule the belief-systems of others… but yes, there are some things that I just don’t… *get*… perhaps somebody who prays to dead saints can explain it all to me?  Perhaps I just need to hear someone’s real-life account – or perspective – on how it matters to them.  Maybe then, I will better understand…

After the tour… (which included a tour of their gardens which included a replica of the Virgin Mary’s tomb)…  we left the monastery and drove ourselves off to the very huge (and only recently completed) Washington National Cathedral.


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The Washington Cathedral seems to have a very different approach to religion (one that I found significantly more palatable).  Their vision statement says this:  “The National Cathedral will be a catalyst for spiritual harmony in our nation, renewal in the churches, reconciliation among faiths, and compassion in our world”.

As a result – we noticed that they had a lot of different activities on offer that had decidedly… different spiritual roots.  And, in their bookshop – they had books and trinkets on ALL faiths and belief systems (not only Christianity).

And they had stickers and T-shirts that looked like this:

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…and you could buy small replicas of the gargoyles found on the outside of the building – including THIS one:

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I find it amusing that the Washington National Cathedral has Darth Vader on it’s northwest tower.  🙂

Also on display was a collection of nativity scenes… each crafted by different artists from around the world, using different materials.  They were fascinating to browse… a lovely little art collection in the bowels of the cathedral…

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The cathedral is huge… and we spent a few hours browsing around… but finally, it was time for us to leave.

As a final note, I don’t write often about spirituality on this blog.  A couple of years ago, I would have written everything from a very Evangelical, I-have-all-the-answers perspective (not saying that *all* Christians feel that way, but I was certainly one of the dogmatic types that did!)

These days…  I would probably call myself an agnostic.  Or – to coin a phrase by my friend Rogan, a “romantic agnostic”.  I like the idea of Something Bigger – but, I’m no longer claiming that I know what or who that Something is… or what that Something wants… or what that Something says.

And… I am wary… and rather suspicious… of anyone who claims that they *know*.

That’s a really strong statement:  “I know!”… and I’m not sure I like to use those words any more.  And certainly not when it comes to something as mysterious and un-knowable as God.

These days, I have a new name for God:  The Divine Mystery.

Because who can truly know everything (or even anything) about God?

If the beautiful cathedrals… and mosques… and monasteries… and chapels… and synagogues… and religious texts… and artwork… and architecture… and shrines… and stain-glass windows… and statues… and sacred monuments… and altars… teach us anything… perhaps they teach us more about ourselves than what they teach us about God.

Perhaps, visiting these places provides us with a deep insight into the hearts and minds of humanity… and our deep yearning to connect with the *More*…

Perhaps we find in these places… a reflection of who we are – and, more importantly, who we want to be.

For me… personally… my visits to the great places of worship… cause me to question… and reflect… and think… and wonder… and marvel… and consider… and mediate… and imagine… and to give thanks… (I do lots of that:  giving thanks…)

And – I think… all-in-all… that’s a good thing.


The White Christmas cabin, the frozen lake and the fish that bit Joah…

My Mom used to call me the Eleventh-Hour-Child.  And – admittedly – nothing much has changed.

Yes, there is much to be said for planning… and, when it comes to road trips, there are certainly people who plan everything months in advance… (I know someone who even planned which gas stations she’d stop at on her vacation-trip to the coast).

We’re not planners.

We enjoy the freedom of travelling where we want… when we want.  We like our schedule to be unhampered by dates, ETA’s and deadlines – and especially when it comes to a road trip. We like the freedom to stay (if we’re enjoying a place)… and the freedom to leave (when we don’t like what we find).

When Nick and I got married, we enjoyed a two-week honeymoon in Austria.  We had 3 things booked for that trip:  flights, a car and a single night (upon our arrival) in the city of Vienna.  Then… we hit the road and simply followed our noses.  We stopped in the little cities that looked quaint and interesting… and we drove straight past places that didn’t catch our interest.   We found interesting (and unexpected) hotels and guest-houses along the way:

  • An en-suite room behind a restaurant in the city of Melk… (in order to get to our room, we had to walk through the restaurant kitchen)
  • An antique dealership in Lintz (that also doubled as a guest-house).  The owner brought us plates of complimentary Austrian food… (much of it served on animal shaped crockery)
  • A 300 year old hotel in Saltzburg
  • A quaint log-cabin hotel, deep in the mountains… where we enjoyed hot chocolate and strawberries dipped in Nutella as the snow drifted down outside…

Suffice to say – unplanned road trips usually work out in our favour.

But – occasionally… things only work out at the very last minute.

That was certainly the case, during the early hours of the 24th of December – trying to find ourselves a lovely cabin-in-the-woods to enjoy a white Christmas.

But we did find such a place – and it DID work out… perfectly!

The Adirondacks in New York state have been added to my list of favourite-places-in-the-world.  It’s a massive area – spanning over 6 million acres – and it’s all a protected state park.  Just think mountains, forests, rivers, lakes, deer, bears, fishing, birds… and beautiful little cabins and homesteads tucked in-between the trees.

The home we rented was in a little town called Indian Lake – smack in the middle of the state park.  And the house couldn’t have been more perfect (I waxed on a lot about the house in this post).  Here’s a photo:


We enjoyed a few blissful nights… tucked away in that cottage – and best part – it’s right on the banks of a frozen lake.

This was our very first frozen-lake experience… and, initially, we were very wary about stepping out on the ice (I had dark visions of news headlines:  “Ignorant South African woman thinks lake is frozen and falls through ice”).

But, when we saw ice fishermen… drilling holes into the lake (and later, snowmobiles driving across the lake – some of them pulling sleds full of ice-fishing supplies) we thought:  “Okay, the lake is definitely frozen!”

Here’s some frozen-lake photos:

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Anyway… so I was super-curious about ice-fishing.  I have only ever read about ice-fishing and I wanted to know more… so I approached two men who were fishing fairly close to the cottage and asked them a lot of questions.

They were very obliging and showed us the tricks of the trade (although, there was a somewhat awkward and embarrassing moment when one of them bent down to check on his fishing gadget and let out a loud fart by mistake).

Here’s some pics of ice-fishing stuff:

That's the live bait that they use… and there's a collection of scoops and odd kitchen-looking utensils that they use too...

That’s the live bait that they use… and there’s a collection of scoops and odd kitchen-looking utensils that they use too…

They drill their holes in the ice with this thingy...

They drill their holes in the ice with this thingy…

Ice-fishermen guys...

Ice-fishermen guys…

The fishing gadget that goes over the holes...

The fishing gadget that goes over the holes…

So… anyway…

We spent most of our time in Indian Lake doing the following:

  • Sitting in front of the big, wood fire… drinking hot chocolate, playing games, building puzzles and creating art…
  • Sleeping!
  • Eating!
  • Playing in the snow… walking on the lake.. and sledding down the hill (straight on to the ice of the lake)

It was very relaxing.  A time for us to just *be*… for a while.

The owner of the cottage recommended that we pay a visit to the Wild Centre – which is a small, but lovely centre that tells the explains the story of the Adirondacks region and the wildlife that lives there.

There were so many interesting things for us to see and do and experiment with…

Here’s some pics:



Otter watching...

Otter watching…

So… anyway… at one stage during our visit, we found a lovely trout exhibit.  It had glass tanks and a strong current – so you could see how trout do their up-stream swimming-thing.

The trout seemed friendly enough… they swam close to the surface and all of us enjoyed stroking their slimy little backs:

joah stroking trout

All fun and games, of course… until one of the trout decided that Joah’s little fingers resembled some tasty morsels of food… and bit him!  Hard!

I know I shouldn’t laugh… but the expression on Joah’s face was priceless.  He was so indignant!  How dare that trout bite him?  After the initial indignation, there were a few tears.  The trout had left two needle-width lines down his finger… both of them oozing a bit of blood.


Joah cheered up quickly though… there was still lots to see and do.

Here’s two more fun photos of the Wild Center before I end this post…

moose us

moose nick

Anyway.  So that’s my little catch-up post about Christmas (you can see I’m a bit far behind – since it’s now the 19th of January and I’m typing this from South Africa… where we’re currently experiencing a brutal heat wave!  Very… very different weather to the icy Adirondacks!)

After a few blissful days at the Indian Lake cottage, we packed George-the-Car and drove southwards – back to Washington DC.  We stopped over briefly in a dodgy motel in a town called Sherburne.

And… a day later… we were back in Washington DC with our friends, Joel, Meg and their daughter, Juno.

And – it was time to hit some more DC sights… (which I’ll write about in another post).

But, now it’s time for me to sign off.  Lots of people to see and catch up with here in Jozi…  I’ll blog soon-soon!  🙂

Cake, car accidents and late-night panic…

So… after we were finished with the Great Wolf Lodge, we hunkered down in Norwalk (Ohio) for a few days with Molly, Terry and Margie.

Norwalk… by the way… was the small town where I lived in 2000.  As is typical of small towns, not much has changed (since when I lived there).  The Bob Evans restaurant has moved to a new location… the manager of the Mexican restaurant was jailed for employing illegals… and… they’ve built a new cinema!

Okayeee, then…

Moving on…

We stayed with 3 of my favourite people:  Terry… Molly… and Margie.  We arrived to warm hugs, a roaring fire and hot chilli bubbling on the stove  (Chilli – by the way – is a bit like a bolognaise sauce… with added beans and spicy-things… and you serve it with nacho chips – not pasta).

It was awesome spending time with them and catching up.  You know the types of friends that you don’t see for years… but as soon as you walk through the door and see each other again, it’s like you never left?  That’s what it was like.  There was such an easy-going warmth between us (and that always makes me happy).

The next couple of days, we relaxed, I wrote blogs, the kids played… we watched The Hobbit at the new Norwalk Cinema (with Terry), we ate at Jim’s Pizza Box (same Jim… same pizza)… and we took the kids to Thomas Edison’s birthplace to peruse his various inventions.

That's the house where Thomas Edison was born (it has a little museum in there too).  It's situated in Milan (which is down the road from Norwalk)...

That’s the house where Thomas Edison was born (it has a little museum in there too). It’s situated in Milan (which is down the road from Norwalk)…

Morgan standing in Edison's old kitchen...

Morgan standing in Edison’s old kitchen…

As it turns out – quite a lot of people have a lot of opinions about Edison – and many of them aren’t positive.  It’s alleged that he was a businessman more than an inventor… and that he treated his staff terribly and stole people’s ideas.  That said… one can’t deny the genius of the phonograph (apparently his favourite invention) – and especially since he was deaf when he invented it!  Did you know that?  I didn’t!

Apparently, he was such a brilliant lip-reader that few people realised that he was deaf – and, at dinner parties – if too many people were talking simultaneously (and he couldn’t simultaneously read lips… obviously)… his wife would tap the conversation in morse code (discreetly) on the table… so he could be kept abreast of the general conversation – even when focussing on only one person’s lips.

So – whether folk like or loathe Edison (and the jury is still out on the lightbulb thing)…  he certainly was a genius.

I liked exploring his childhood home too… a lovely little stone cottage on the banks of an old canal (the kids were given flashing lightbulb necklaces as gifts by a sweet lady who was very excited that South Africans had come to visit her tiny museum.  She even snapped a photo of us on her iPhone – as proof!).


On our last night in Norwalk, a couple of old friends popped in for a visit.  Amy is a friend I haven’t seen in years… and we chatted for ages (so much catching up to do!).  Ashlea and Brenda were there too…. and Morgan and Joah had Ashelea’s 3 kids to play with – so there was lots of noise, chasing-games and screeches of glee… while the grown-up’s yakked away (and consumed way too much cake!).  Here’s pics…

Nick and Terry sitting by the fire...

Nick and Terry sitting by the fire… (her granddaughter did her hair)…

Me… Amy… Terry...

Me… Amy… Terry…

Terry's grandkids having fun with their "Nona"… (hee-hee!)...

Terry’s grandkids having fun with their “Nona”… (hee-hee!)…

The following day, it was time to go.  I really wanted one last coffee-and-conversation with Margie… but she was asleep and I didn’t want to disturb her.

So… we packed George… said our goodbyes to Molly and Terry – and drove off…  and… just a few kilometres down the road, we crashed George!

Yip.  It was rainy and foggy and there were a gazillion people on the roads in Sandusky doing their last minute Christmas shopping… and whilst trying to turn into highway 50 (after a coffee-stop at Starbucks), we drove smack into another car (trying to turn off highway 50).  It was a mild accident… the most damage done was spilling my newly-purchased Caramel Brûlée Latte all over my lap.

The man in the other car was shaken – and very concerned about whether we were all okay.  We were.  The kids weren’t even slightly phased – although Joah was concerned about George.  “Is George bruised?” – he wanted to know.

George – as it turns out – being an old, sturdy car… escaped with nary a scratch.  The other man’s car wasn’t as fortunate.  The front bumper was bashed in… the lights broken too.  Thankfully, everyone was insured… so after the routine exchanges of information… photos taken on cell phones… and curt, polite goodbyes… we were on our way again.


We took it slow.  The weather was rainy, misty and miserable… so we ended up reaching Geneva (on Lake Erie)…. still in the State of Ohio… and we decided to call it a night.

We took this photo in Geneva… and I find it a bit tough to believe.  Seriously?  It's illegal to move chairs or close umbrellas?

We took this photo in Geneva… and I find it a bit tough to believe. Seriously? It’s illegal to move chairs or close umbrellas?

After driving around Geneva… we found a reasonably-priced place to stay:  a lovely little 2-bedroom cottage, right on the lake.  I imagine that in summertime, Geneva must be quite the holiday mecca – but it’s a bit of a ghost-town in winter (hence the good prices for accommodation).  We ordered in pizza and watched movies and tried to figure out WHERE we’d be spending Christmas!  At the time, we had no idea… we knew we wanted a white Christmas… we knew we wanted to visit the New England area… we knew we didn’t want to be in a hotel or motel… but we didn’t know where… or what… or how.

Look how amazing Lake Erie looks in wintertime!?  All that ice mixed with sand… it felt a bit surreal - like we were on another planet...

Look how amazing Lake Erie looks in wintertime!? All that ice mixed with sand… it felt a bit surreal – like we were on another planet…

Another pic of icy, interesting Lake Erie...

Another pic of icy, interesting Lake Erie…

After browsing the internet and coming up with nought… we left the following morning and drove through Pennsylvania to New York State.  We spent the whole day in the car (rainy weather and lots of mist – so we couldn’t even enjoy the scenery)… and eventually ended up in a tiny town called Salamanca – which had a HUGE glass casino!  It was rather odd… driving through this beautiful, rural area… lots of mountains… and forests… and suddenly, in the middle of nowhere – there’s this ostentatious monstrosity!

We found a Holiday Inn nearby.  The kids splashed in the indoor pool (and bubbled in the jacuzzi)… and then we ordered Chinese take-aways and watched Home Alone on the TV.

We were about to hit Christmas Eve – and we still had no idea where we’d end up spending Christmas… and things were beginning to look a bit bleak!

The next day was spent entirely in the car (again).  We drove to Schenectady (which I still can’t properly pronounce)… and ended up staying in the tiniest hotel room we had experienced thus far on our travels.  The 2 “double” beds were only slightly wider than a single… so, in order to fit, Nick and I each slept with one of the kids (since we couldn’t fit 2 adults in one of those beds).

The next morning was going to be Christmas Eve… we had no accommodation booked… we didn’t know anything about New York – or which direction we should head… and our attempts to find accommodation online were looking spectacularly dismal.  Everything was either fully booked… or way too expensive for our budget…. and I began to imagine us spending Christmas cooped up in a tiny motel – somewhere along the highway… toasting with cheap wine in foam cups and watching adverts on TV.  I sent off one last e-mail request for a place that looked as though it could be what we were searching for (and waited for the inevitable “sorry, we are booked” response).

After the kids had gone to sleep, Nick decided that he was going to sneak out and buy them Christmas presents.  He said he’d found a Target store down the road which – apparently – was open ’til late… and that he’d be “back soon”.

Two hours later… and he was not back.  Three hours later… no sign of him – and I began to panic.  I had visions of him crashing George… visions of him lying dead in a ditch… visions of becoming a widow on Christmas Day (I’m one of those overactive imagination types).  Four hours later… I was frantically googling “Schenectady Traffic Incidents” sites… and when I saw that two *serious* accidents had occurred in that region, I began to feel sick with worry.  I sat at the window… staring at the parking lot… counting every car that passed… waiting desperately for a car that looked like George.   Eventually – a car pulled in (and it looked a bit like a cop car) and my heart jumped into my throat:  “It’s cops!  It’s cops!  Nick must have gasped out the hotel name as they carried him off on a gurney… and they’ve come to tell me some awful news!”

(Of course… it was NOT the cops.  Just a few guys… in a branded car… checking in to the motel)

I went to speak to the guy at the front desk (who had a piece of sandwich attached to his facial hair as he talked to me)… and just as I was asking him for the telephone number of the local hospital and police…  I spotted George… pulling in to the parking lot.

Nick relayed a frustrating tale of how Target was closed… so he drove to another Target… which was closed… and then he asked for directions to a Walmart… which was closed… and then eventually hunted down a *Super* Walmart (which was on the opposite side of town).  I was relieved to have him back… and he had purchased the prezzies (which I wrapped on the bathroom floor at the hotel at almost 4 in the morning).


Christmas Eve… we woke to some wonderful news:  the owner of the cottage on Indian Lake said that it was free.  We could go!  (I wrote about our delight here)… Christmas was going to amazing, after all!

Okay – so this has been a long-winded post… trying to catch you up on so much travel-news because we’re due to leave the States in just a few days – and I still have so (!) much to share.

Thanks for reading! x


Back to Ohio I go…

Did you know that I lived in Ohio?

Yep… I did!  I lived in Ohio for almost 10 months in 2000.  At the time, I worked for a church in Norwalk (which is close to Sandusky… which is close to Lake Erie).  I was the Worship Leader / Music Director.

Of course… when you live and work for a church in a small community for 10 months, you’re bound to make friends… and I did!  And many of those friends have remained my friends… (in spite of my slow journeying away from my old religious beliefs).  I have friends in Ohio.  Good friends.

And so, after meeting the Millers in Indiana, we had to stop in Ohio for a visit.

First stop was Columbus.  This is where the Michael Family live.  I made friends with Danielle when we were both still very single.  In fact, Danielle was one of the very first people who guessed that there was something deeper going on between Nick and I (than what I cared to admit at the time).

Also… when Nick and I visited Cuba in 2002… Danielle was there too.  So, we’ve had many deep discussions over the years and I’ve always loved her frank, interesting opinions.

These days, Danielle is happily married to Conrad… and they have 3 children.  Their girls, Isabelle and Grace are similar in age to Morgan and Joah… and their little guy, Hudson, is only a few months old.

Here’s a picture of Joah with Hudson:


The family lives in a charming house in a neighbourhood outside of Columbus.  Here’s a picture I took through Danielle’s lounge window…  (of the house across the road).  It’s not Danielle and Conrad’s home… but theirs is fairly similar…


Of course – Morgan and Joah were very delighted to meet Isabelle and Grace… and soon, the 4 of them were playing loudly and rambunctiously (and messily)… creating tents out of blankets and sliding down the stairs on their bums.

Oh… and did I mention that Danielle is not only a fabulous host – but a talented cook (I suspect she inherits this skill from her grandmother, Margie).  We arrived in Columbus to a kind of taco lasagne (very yummy!)… plus nachos with a homemade salsa… and freshly-baked cookies for afterwards.

After lots of catching up and late night chats – Nick and I slept comfortably in Isabelle’s room (while all 4 kids bunked together on the landing outside our door… in a giant nest they’d created out of blankets, pillows and fluffy toys).

The next day, the Michael Family took us to visit the North Market in downtown Columbus.  (It reminds me quite a bit of Joburg’s Neighbourgoods Market) …  artisan breads, all kinds of delicious, freshly-cooked food, spices, sauces, jams… and *drool!*Jeni’s ice-cream (with odd-sounding, yet DIVINE-tasting flavours like sweet potato with torched marshmallow)…

Here’s two North Market photos…



After our tummies were full, we attempted some sledding with the kids… but it was simply too cold and too icy to stay outdoors for long.

The rest of the day was spent warmly ensconced in the Michael Home… with food… hot Indian chai… Christmas lights… and a lovely warm fire.  Oh yes, and we watched Steel Magnolias!  (hehe!)…

The following day, Danielle drove us to a very posh shopping area just outside of Columbus (I’ve forgotten the name).  She wanted to show me around… and she thought we’d enjoy the *experience* of gawking at the American Girl Doll store… (and gawk I did… and blog I did too…!)

After the Girl-Doll thing… we walked around a bit.  The centre had a beautiful Christmas display with lights… mini-trains… and a giant tree.  If it wasn’t so bitterly cold, I think we would have stayed outdoors for much longer – there was so much to see and “take in”…

Big tree… and 4 happy kidlets...

Big tree… and 4 happy kidlets…

Joah checking out the trains...

Joah checking out the trains…

Afterwards, we all went to a lovely Mexican restaurant and enjoyed a very good… very satisfying meal of shared fajitas.  It was soooo good!


And then… back to the Michael Home.  I sat at the kitchen table and blogged while Danielle (who is one of those super-productive super-organised women who never seems to rest) helped the kids to bake and decorate cookies!


I had lots of happy moments bonding with baby Hudson… who, I must admit… made me feel very broody.  There’s just something about a little baby… their cute little grunts and squeaks and movements… that stirs the broodiness in me!  And Hudson is super-cute!

But… that said… I know what hard work babies (and especially toddlers!) are.  And I am happy and grateful that Morgan and Joah are out of nappies and able to bath / change / feed themselves (and wipe their own bums!)…

The following morning, we loaded up George the car and prepared to head northwards to Norwalk.  Danielle packed us a little box of decorated cookies to enjoy on the road.

The  Costaras / Michael kids were all upset about saying goodbye… and tearful protests were voiced.  Little did they know that we (the parents) had hatched a “Big Surprise” that I’ll tell you about in this post…  🙂



It’s New Year’s Eve.

The kids are tucked in bed after a lovely day browsing the National Air & Space Museum here in Washington DC.  They ate pizza… and ice-cream… and then bubbled themselves into a waterlogged state in Joel and Meg’s jacuzzi bath.  There were bubbles.  There were glow sticks.  There were squeals of glee…

As I type this, Nick and Joel (who have been good friends for many years)… are sitting outside in the cold on Joel’s front porch steps.  They have Amarula Cream on ice… and they’re smoking Cuban cigars from Ybor.  Joel and Nick have a tradition of sharing a cigar on a special occasion – and tonight seemed apt enough.

I can hear the muffled sounds of their conversations.  It makes me happy.

I’m cozied up in the warmth of the Clark’s home.   They live in one of those gorgeous, narrow row-houses.  It’s over 100 years old.   The Christmas lights are still up (in this home and in most of the homes along this street)  and there’s still a definite festive feeling in the air.

Here, inside, there’s coffee in the pot and mint chocolates on the table next to me.   There’s a snuggly blanket and my feet are warmly tucked into nuzzle socks.

Back in South Africa, it’s already 2014.

Here in DC, it’s about an hour away from midnight.

This – for me – is a perfect New Year’s Eve.

I don’t need parties and noise and crowds of excited people.  I don’t need loud, thumping music and fireworks and screaming countdowns.

All I really want… on this New Year’s Eve… is the closeness of my loved ones.  A kiss from my husband.  The sighs of my sleeping children as I run my fingers through their hair.  All I really want is warmth… friendship… deep conversations… and feeling of being in a place where I’m welcome… and loved.

So, I am happy.

2013 has been a great year for us… and I wish it farewell with a grateful heart.

I’m looking forward to what 2014 will bring!

Happy New Year, everyone! X