Sunday, December 31, 2006

A little bit goofy, a little bit artistic?

So, on Christmas eve morning, I was helping my mom prepare food for Christmas dinner. I was in charge of the brussell sprouts and the cranberry and custard trifle. After chopping the brussell sprouts and preparing the trifle, I went to disposal the leftovers down the drain. There, sitting all along, was a cranberry nestled in a fallen brussell sprout leaf.

So, I decided to take its picture. Silly I know, but the picture I took of this little pair on the morning's Washington Post's Arts section sorta make Josephine Baker look a little like Carmen Miranda.

I had fun!

I can make dirt!

For Christmas this year, Joe got me a composter! I know, but before you jump to any "vacuum cleaner / washing machine / toaster oven - as gifts" comments, I asked for one! I want a place to put all our kitchen scraps without adding them to the ever-filling landfills. So, what better place to put them than a composter... and when I want compost for our garden, what better place to get it than FREE in our backyard!?

Compost, yay!

Our friend Carla would be proud!

Insects and dinosaurs and sloths!

More from our trip to the Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh.

Outside the insect gallery - this exhibit was sponsored by Terminix!

Up in the box, a two-toed sloth slumbers

Part of the dinosaur exhibit

We have a sloth!

This past Friday, Richard, Joanna, Joe and I ventured into downtown Raleigh to explore more of the Natural Science museum. Unbeknownst to me, this museum has a sloth! We wandered through the Living Conservatory (where they had the sloth and lots of butterflies), an insect gallery (where they had... insects), and took in the dinosaur exhibit (recently renovated).

Outside the museum - can you see the dinosaur?

Outside the museum

Dale and Joe at the museum

A night at the museum

Each year on Christmas Eve, my family has a tradition where we go to a matinee movie and then eat take-out food. This started our first year in the US when we decided to spend our very first christmas away from home. We journeyed to Massanutten where we hoped for snow. Alas, there was no snow to be had (only fake snow to be made) and we were bored so we went to see a movie and had take-out. This year our movie was "A Night at the Museum" - how fitting that during our visits with family we took in two museums!

National Gallery of Art, DC

Christmas decorations

Candy canes and christmas ornaments

Wreaths for the backs of the dining room chairs

Arrangements made from fresh seasonal greens purchased at the Raleigh Farmers Market - 3 big arrangements like this and 3 smaller arrangements for $15!

Christmas tree

Living room mantle

From the ghost of Christmas past

Well, Joe and I had a wonderful Christmas visiting first with my family in Virginia, then spending a few days with Joe's parents who drove down to see us in NC. Up in Virginia, we visited the National Gallery of Art, followed by a visit to the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. I also am including some pictures of the decorations that graced our house for the bunco party that I hosted on December 15th and again two days later at a dessert party we decided to throw for our neighbors.

Christmas is all wrapped up now and in boxes ready to be packed back in the storage room. Before they're put away for another year, take a moment to enjoy Christmas for just a moment longer.

Happy New Year to you all!

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Indi loves Mr. Squirrel

Over Thanksgiving, Joe and I spent the weekend with his parents. Indi spent three weeks with them while Joe and I were in South Africa. During that time, she and Richard went on many neighborhood walks. And during those walks, Indi saw lots of squirrels...which she LOVED and wished she could chase.

When we arrived for Thanksgiving, Richard gave Indi a little squirrel toy he found while out shopping. She loves the squirrel. As you might see from the picture, she has certainly shown it a lot of love and affection - I believe the only stuffing it has left is in it's head, but it miraculously has all its legs, although on has folded itself inside out. Long live, Mr. Squirrel.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

One last parade picture

And what parade would be complete without the jolly old man himself?

Christmas parade continued

Here are a few more pictures from the parade.

Downtown Clayton Christmas Parade

On Saturday afternoon, Liz, Collin and I ventured into downtown Clayton for their annual Christmas parade. Below are some photos from that. All the usual suspects were there: marching bands, groups of dancers, baton twirlers (with flaming batons, to boot!), and assorted politicians and "Junior Miss" winners being driven in fancy cars. There were lots of regular style floats with glitter and tinsel, and a few different ones: the Vietnam-era helicopter, a giant shopping cart (promoting NC agriculture / produce) and a white van advertising a funeral home (this van had no tinsel or glitter). And in tradition, Santa made his appearance in grand style, driving a fancy old red car. He was not, however, the last down the road. The highlight (of which I have no photos as the camera battery died) was a procession of 9 Caterpillar skid steer loaders sporting reindeer antlers, with a red-nosed Rudolph leading the way!

Sunday, December 03, 2006

New neighbors and friends

Since moving to North Carolina, Joe and I have been fortunate enough to meet some wonderful people on our street. The old saying, "You can pick your friends but not your family" should be said for neighbors. You can pick your friends but not your neighbors. We've had some bad luck in the past, but our neighbors on Nelson Lane have more than made up for that!

From left: Kim (expecting her first child, a son, in April), me (holding Charlie, Melisa's son), Rachel (my next-door-neighbor), Michelle (lives diagonally across the street, also expecting, a second daughter, in April) and Melisa (two houses down from Michelle)

Friday, December 01, 2006

Happy 24 days till Christmas!

This year, in the spirit of having more free time to be creative, I decided to make my own advent calendar. Granted, the idea was not entirely mine; I found the idea in a British magazine.... but all the hard work was definitely 100% mine!

And the best part: each little box is filled with chocolate goodies :)

Let the countdown begin!

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Dale and Joe's Excellent Adventure!

This past October, Joe and I travelled to South Africa to visit my grandparents. Along the way saw some old friends, toured the region with a tour guide, saw lots of animals at the Kruger National Park and had a wonderful time doing it all!

[click on map for larger image]

We've been back in the U.S. for a couple of weeks now and being the procrastinator that I am, I'm FINALLY uploading the pictures of our trip. You can't really blame me though; Joe took over 600 pictures! That's a lot to sort through.

So, without further adieu, here's our vacation!

(You can either scroll down and read all about it backwards, or travel with us in order.)

Blog entries:

1. Are we nearly there?
2. We're here! [view photos]
3. Joe tries boerwors [view photos]
4. Visiting old friends [view photos]
5. Let the tour begin!
6. Tour day 1: Mpumalanga [view photos]
7. Tour day 2: Kruger National Park [view photos]
8. Tour day 3: Kruger National Park [view photos]
9. Tour day 4: Kruger National Park and Swaziland [view photos]
10. Tour day 5: Swaziland and Hluhluwe [view photos]
11. Tour day 6: Driving to St. Lucia
12. Time with Granny and Boboy [view photos: 1 | 2 | 3]

Each blog entry has a link to the corresponding photos.

You can also view the entire photo collection.

Time with Granny and Boboy

St. Lucia
View photos of St. Lucia.

While in St. Lucia (we were there for the weekend) we took a drive through a small game reserve to Cape Vidal. Joe and I walked along the beach and dipped our feet into the Indian Ocean. It was chilly! On the way back to the resort, we stopped at a hippo viewing site and saw a bunch of hippos hanging out in the water. St. Lucia is known for hippo and crocodile viewing, so we were pleased to see both while we were there.

View photos of Hibberdene.

From St. Lucia, we drove to Hibberdene, where my grandparents live. While we were with my grandparents, we took a few trips up and down the coast to small beach towns, but unfortunately plans to go camping with them were hindered by bad weather.

Oribi Gorge and Leopard Rock
View photos of Oribi Gorge and Leopard Rock.

On our last full day there, we took a drive up (or was it down?) to Oribi Gorge and Leopard Rock. Oribi Gorge is home to the world's largest swing (fancy word for modified bungee jump) which Joe really wanted to try. So, after lunch, we drove up to the jump site and watched as Joe got harnessed up and jumped into the gorge. He had a great time jumping and I was nervously happy for him.

The next day we left South Africa and began our long 17 hour flight home. We were sad that our vacation was ending but glad to be going home to see our dog, who had been staying with Richard and Joanna while we were gone.

We came home to cold weather, red and orange leaves on trees, a green backyard (the grass seed Joe planted a few weeks before we left had bloomed while we were gone) and two houses practically in our backyard (the lot directly behind our house is still empty, though not for long I'm sure).

All in all, a fabulous vacation, one that I will remember for a very long time. I am glad Joe had a chance to see where I'm from, to put faces to names (of people, of places) and to experience a few of the things the country has to offer.

Tour Day 6

We drove 1.5 hours to St. Lucia, a wetland ecosystem along the coast. This was where we were meeting my grandparents. And thus ends our drive from point A to point B.

Tour Day 5

Leaving Swaziland, heading for Hluhluwe
View photos for this entry.

We left Swaziland and along the way out, stopped at a glass factory and a candle factory. Our final overnight on the tour was at a region called Hluhluwe, which offers another game park, though not nearly as large as the Kruger National Park. We stayed in a cute little bungalow and from our window, spotted a small group of nyala (they look like smaller kudu but with slightly different markings). That evening, Joe and I dined at an outdoor feast - the park folks drive you to a clearing in a wooded area where they've set up tables, chairs, and all kinds of tasty food! What a wonderful way to end the tour, drinking wine, eating good food, all under the beautiful African sky.

Tour Day 4

Leaving Kruger and heading to Swaziland
View photos for this entry.

We left the Kruger National Park and settled in for a long drive to our hotel in Swaziland. My impressions of Swaziland: an odd little country with the BEST dinner and breakfast buffet!

Tour Day 3

Our second day in the Kruger National Park
View photos for this entry.

Since we had so much luck spotting 4 of the Big Five the day before, I wasn't going to push my luck, but I put it into the universe that I'd like to see a rhino before breakfast, which would bring our tally to 5. That said, we set off down a road on which Pierre pointed out he doesn't usually see a lot of animals, but what he does see is good. Fair enough. Before too long, I spotted 4 of something in the bush. Pierre backed up the car a bit and we spotted 4 buffalo. Before too long, we were literally surrounded by a herd of probably over 200! We just sat there watching them as they watched us. There was not another car in sight for probably 20 minutes. It was fantastic!

Not far down the road, we saw a group of parked cars watching something. A pack of wild dogs, just lounging by the side of the road! We counted 9 dogs, a few of which we only spotted as we saw their tails flicker in the bush, swatting flies. What a sight! We just sat and watched them sleep -- and after all the warnings (they're rare, you won't see them, they're shy), here we were, watching a PACK!

We ended up driving to a rest stop for breakfast, where, while Pierre was waiting for our food, we spotted a rhino off in the distance a bit, across from a small river that ran along side the rest camp. Technically spotted BEFORE we ate breakfast, this guy brought our total of the Big Five to the Big Five! Unheard of in my experience at the park as a child.

Before we left, Pierre spoke to another tour guide he knew at the rest stop who told him of a leopard sighting not too far away. This leopard had made a kill and had dragged the body up a tree. Excellent! Luckily we weren't the only ones who'd heard of this sighting, as I'm not sure we would have seen it without the group of cars to clue us in. This leopard was also a fair way off, but if you listened closely, you could hear the sound of breaking bones as he ate.

Two leopard sightings, two lion sightings. What an amazing time! leopard sightings, two lion sightings. What an amazing time!

That night, as we did the first, Joe and I went on a night ride before dinner. This time we headed back to where the lions were seen earlier (the ones sleeping on the road). This time the whole pride was out. We counted 9, including a few young males and some younger lions (no real cubs, per se, but definitely young). We sat with them for a while as they lounged on the road, and then followed them for a while as they walked up the road. It was so neat to see the matriarch leading the group; when she moved, they moved, when she stopped to rest, they stopped.

Tour Day 2

Our first day in the Kruger National Park
View photos for this entry.

We traveled into the Kruger National Park where we hoped to spot the Big Five. I warned Joe that I didn't remember seeing all the Big Five as a child and that we'd be really lucky to see just a few. With that, we started driving through the park.

Note: I was really hoping to see an African wild dog, but was under the same warning: they're very rare, most people don't see them, they're very shy, etc.

The Big Five: Rhino, Elephant, Lion, Leopard, Cape Buffalo

The first thing we saw was a kudu. Then some baboons playing on top of a huge rock group. Pictures of the baboons were a little difficult to get as they were quite a distance off. I won't bore you with a long list of animals we saw, but will do my best to wow you with all the pictures.

So, we're driving along, slowly, towards our evening destination: a rest camp called Skukuza. When I booked the trip, I was told we'd be staying at Pretoriuskop, so was surprised to find they had moved us. I was told that the park was full and the only place to stay was at a 2 bedroom "house" which we'd share with our guide. When we got to Skukuza, we were told that there had been a mixup and that we were in fact staying at Pretoriuskop. No problem. Back in the car for the long drive back the way we'd just come.

Our tour guide, being park savvy, took a different road back and when we were halfway back, we spotted a group of cars up ahead. (You learn to look out for wildlife AND parked cars, as that's usually an indicator that someone has spotted something in the bush.) I peered through the front window (Joe and I were backseat drivers) and practically freaked out! A wild dog! He was walking down the road, just trotting along. He walked right past our car before disappearing into the bush. To see just one of these beautiful animals was worth the entire trip! I was so happy! I had really wanted to see one, but had resolved myself to the fact that I probably wouldn't, to be happy with what I did see. After that sighting, I was on cloud nine! And yes, I think they're beautiful and I think the babies are terribly cute, although some folks think they're not so cute.

At this point in the day, we'd seen the one of the Big Five… and elephant. Better luck tomorrow.

So, we're about 5 minutes from the gate of our rest camp and Joe's peering through the bush and suddenly asks Pierre to back the car up a bit. We see a leopard, walking right towards us through the grass. We only got one picture of him as he was a fast walker and wasn't out of the bush for very long. Once he walked back into the grass, he was gone.

So, two of the Big Five in one day: definitely not too shabby, especially considering one of our sightings was of a leopard, which I had never seen on any of my trips as a child! Before dinner, Joe and I took a guided night drive in an open-air vehicle. It was freezing outside, so we were thankful for the blankets they provided.

As for our night sightings... a leopard hiding in some brush, one lion and a small group of buffalo, bringing out final count of the Big Five to four!

Tour Day 1

Touring Mpumalanga
View photos for this entry.

We traveled from Pretoria to Hazyview by way of Pilgrim's Rest, Blyde River Canyon, the Three Rondawels, God's Window, Bourke's Luck Potholes, and Lisbon Falls. I'd been to these sights as a child, so was so excited for Joe to see them.

Let the tour begin

At 7:30 Monday morning, our tour guide, Pierre, arrived at Fiona's house to collect us. We were doing what I described as a glorified cab ride. Essentially, Joe and I needed to get from Johannesburg to my grandparents' house just south of Durban (roughly 7 hours away). We found a tour group that offered just that: pick up in Johannesburg and drop off in Durban, with 5 days of sightseeing in between. We were able to change the pick up and drop off a bit, which was a huge help and worked out tremendously!

Visiting old friends

"You haven't changed a bit!"
View photos for this entry.

On Sunday we visited with my friend Mandy and her family. They came over to Fiona's house for a braai (bbq). Mandy and I have known each other since at least 1983 as we went to primary school together. She, Fiona and I were also friends in high school.

Joe tries boerewors

A day trip to Sun City
View photos for this entry.

Saturday: We took a day trip to Sun City. Sun City is a large casino, or should I say, used to be a large casino. In the early days, it was mostly a casino and a venue for foreign (aka British and US) performers. This was where my parents saw Queen and Rod Stewart in the days of apartheid when foreign performers would not perform in South Africa. Sun City used to be in a small "country" called Boputatswana; since apartheid has ended, it and other small "countries" (which I learned really weren't countries but tribal lands) have become part of South Africa. And since gambling became legal in South Africa over the past 10 years or so, Sun City has had to shift its focus - it now offers a huge water park aimed at families and children.

We spent the day at the "beach" (large wave pool complete with sandy beach) surrounded by the "South Africa's Best Boerewors" contest. Boerewors is a type of South African sausage. Joe had not yet tasted boerewors, so I thought it funny that he got to taste it at at the "best of" contest!

Before we ate dinner that evening, we walked around the grounds, through an aviary, and stopped for the feeding at the crocodile farm just at the entrance to the resort.

We're here!

All the old familiar places
View photos for this entry.

Friday: We were met at the airport by my friend Fiona, who had graciously offered to have us stay at her house for the weekend. Fiona and I were friends for two years in high school before I left South Africa. We were 13 years old when we met and have only seen each other once since I left in 1990. I visited with Fiona in 1995 when I traveled to South Africa with my mom to attend another friend's wedding. Since 95, Fiona has gotten married and had two children.

After being picked up at the airport, we headed to Benoni, the town where I grew up, so I could show Joe all the "old familiar places." We went to my primary (elementary) school, high school, drove past old stores we used to shop at, and then went to see my old house. I was determined to go inside, or at least see the backyard, but we could see no way to ring a doorbell. Since my last visit, the owner of the house has installed a large security gate from one side of the property to the other, thus removing any access to the front door. While I was speaking with the neighbor, who agreed to allow us to peek over the wall from her backyard, Fiona and Joe managed to get the attention of a renter who is living in a small add-on flat in the front yard. She spoke with the maid who somewhat reluctantly let us into the house. I explained to her that my family used to live in the house when I was a child and when she saw me burst into tears (once I was inside), I think she felt ok that she'd allowed us inside.

Being inside the house was very overwhelming. It felt smaller than I remember, but then again, I'm sure I'm bigger than I was when I was 15! Not much had changed, which was nice to see. I was expecting to go in and explain to Joe what it looked like, but for the most part, much of the house was the same. The same tiled floor, the same kitchen cabinets, counters and tiled walls, the same light fixtures. It was nice. We went outside and I saw that some things were different; the new owners had added a fireplace in the living room and built a canopy that covered the entire patio area. I will always remember playing in the yard and was glad to see that the yard I remembered is mostly the same.

On our way out, I pointed out that the security gate at the front door was the same and how I remembered having to jiggle the key to unlock and lock the door. The maid laughed and told me she had to do the same thing.

Are we nearly there?

We start at the airport, where most international vacations usually begin. I spotted the tail of what I guessed would be our plane and Joe ran off to get a shot. We flew South African Airways, which was exciting as I'd never flown SAA (they've only recently been allowed to fly into the US, and only recently into Dulles, where this photo was taken). My grandfather also used to work for the airlines, so it was special for that reason also.

While we waited to board the plane, Joe found himself some beer from OldDominion Brewery. We don't get their beer in NC, so Joe was thrilled to be able to enjoy a local brew before flying. As was typical for our trips to the brewery, I got stuck drinking water.

While enjoying our beer/water, I noticed this CNN news bit about "babymooners" - folks who take pre-baby vacations. Mmm…

Celebrity sighting! While Joe was off photographing the airplane, he spotted a celebrity! Samuel L. Jackson was also flying to South Africa – on our plane! We saw him standing a few feet in front of us in line and I took a peek at the computer screen behind me (where the airline lady was working) and confirmed: Jackson, S. Of course, he flew first class and made it through customs a lot speedier than the rest of us. The perks of celebrity. Turns out Mr. Jackson was in SA to attend the birthday celebration of Desmond Tutu. I wonder if Oprah was there also...

And now we fly!

Joe and I were lucky enough to sit in the emergency aisle seats which translates to LEG ROOM! When sitting upright, I could stick my legs out and barely touch the seat in front of me! (Unfortunately, we were not so lucky on the return flight. Note to travelers: you may request the emergency aisle seats but ONLY when you check in on the day of the flight.)

As far as flights go, it was pretty normal. We had a lot of food, some sleep time (when they turned out the overhead lights), lots of movies to watch on our individual TV monitors, and an hour layover in Dakar, Senegal . Seventeen hours later, we arrived in Johannesburg.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

We voted!

Just got back from the polling station - up the road at the nearby fire station. Total time to vote (including the drive to and from our house): 14 minutes. One of the perks of living in a smaller town - shorter lines at the polls.

We're now sporting our nifty "I voted" sticker and are slowly drying off from all the rain. I wonder if the rains kept a lot of people away today. When we added our votes into the machine (we filled our votes out on paper, ala scantron, and then fed them through a machine), it counted ours as 778 and 779.

Hope you voted too!

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Eggs-actly what I've always wanted!

Joe arrived home from Minnesota very late last night... and he brought presents!

This little guy's name is "Cico" and he's an egg cup. He's made from thermoplastic resin and if you hold him up to the light, he appears to glow. His baseball cap doubles as a salt shaker.

I know what's on my menu for breakfast tomorrow: soft-boiled eggs with Cico!

Hello, Mr. Fox

Indi said hello to a new toy yesterday... and moments later had a hole ripped through his gut. Yummy, Mr. Fox.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

AOL-Man is dead

Sad news to report today. AOL-Man, Indi's favorite "stink yucky" toy, passed away today. I stumbled upon the massacre while walking downstairs to get some water.

Rest in pieces, AOL-Man.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Toothpaste, deodorant and lotion, oh my!

With 10 days remaining until Joe and I board the airplane for our big trip, TSA finally lightened up on their toiletry restrictions.

Those who have heard my woes over the last 2 months, know that the idea of spending 14 hours on a plane with neither toothpaste nor deodorant has caused much stress for me.

I will stress no longer!

I have my ziploc baggie. I have my 3 oz travel-size toiletries. I am ready to travel (and not stink)!

Sunday, September 24, 2006

New addition to our family

Today Joe and I adopted a queen-size bed from our neighbors Joe and Rachel. It fits perfectly in the guest room (the futon has now been moved to the side of the bonus room, where, if needed for large groups, it can be pulled out to act as a bed again).

New comfy digs in the guest room! Yay! Thanks to Joe and Rachel!

Saturday, September 23, 2006

$4, baby!

In preparation for our upcoming trip to South Africa (and the accompanying 14 hour flight), Joe and I took a trip to a local used book store to stock on up reading materials.

After wandering the aisles, I was pleased to find a large selection of books to take with me. The last find was the best: the recently released hardback novel called The Ruins by Scott Smith ... for only $4!

It was on the bestseller lists earlier this summer, and while I've heard it's not the best book ever written, it's a horror about a man-eating plant in Mexico. Sounds like the perfect plane book for me! (I love zombie movies, so figured this book falls into a similar genre, plus I'm not vacationing to Mexico!)

Other books include:
Watership Down
The Confessions of Max Tivoli
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
The Big Love and
The Blind Assassin.

Total cost for these books (plus the 5 or so books Joe picked up): $35
Having something good to read on a 14 hour flight when the on-board movie is one you've seen: Priceless

Friday, September 22, 2006

Poncho for pooch-o?

So earlier in the summer, while Joe was in Minnesota, I knitted myself a poncho. Figured I'd get a jump on winter this year. This poncho was a creamy color and had a fringe. I decided I wanted a darker poncho, so I started a charcoal grey poncho. Today I finished the second poncho - I have not yet decided on a fringe.

Seems while I was stitching up the second poncho, Indi decided the first poncho would make a nice bed for her. She carefully stepped on it, settled down, and promptly fell asleep.

Personally I think the poncho would look great on her, if not for the fringe that would certainly trip her up. I guess she'll just have to accept being fashionably challenged this winter.