Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Problem: expert cooking advice needed.

So this morning we made blueberry pancakes… And this is how they turned out.

At least the blueberries were good...
They were too dense and chewy and they did not cook evenly. What did we do wrong?

P.S. bear in mind that we do not have measuring spoons and are apparently no good at guestimating :)

Song of the Post: Sunrise by Norah Jones.

Monday, March 28, 2011

A Taste of Wine Country.

Yesterday, in the morning, we looked at a duplex 3-bedroom cottage for rent in Observatory, near the train. The front yard was nice, with an electric gate, trees (a frangipani!), grass, and a garage; but when we walked in, I could smell cigarettes and incense. My nose is so sensitive; I’d probably be smelling it for months after we moved in. It was unfurnished and no appliances (boo!), and most concerningly (new word), no alarm system (although it did have window bars). They gave us the Observatory neighborhood paper, the ObsLife, which said that out of the 4 neighborhoods that the local police station policed, it was not longer number one in crime! Scary. We left feeling wishy-washy about it and I think we’ve decided to pass but it was very helpful to see a home and what we might expect to get. I think we will keep looking. Luckily, we are not desperate yet, but finding a “pet friendly” home with a yard will be hard…

After regrouping, we went to the Western Cape Getaway Show and met up with a family from Tucson. There was a Groupon for it (its called either Twangoo or MyCityDeal here), but we didn’t decide in time to buy the coupon. It was in Somerset West, in the wine country. It was so beautiful! As we were driving I took a picture of the rows of grapevines – at the end of the rows, there was a plant with alternating red or white flowers. I wish I had more pictures, but somebody forgot to charge the camera.
Fake bull, fake saguaro, real kid.
We stood in line for at least half an hour to get a beef burger (could have had chicken or ostrich), which was surprisingly good and made up for the wait. We sat on a slope of grass eating and talking, then went to find some libations. I tasted two beers, but rejected both (P got an Ale), so I decided to get wine from the estate we were on, Lourensford Wine Estate. I had to buy the whole bottle of rosé (oh darn!) and rented a glass for a deposit of R20 (which I got back later). We walked around and looked at different companies’ offerings (camping, travel trailers, etc.) and watched the Isuzu off-road demonstrations. There were a lot of kid-friendly stuff, like a fake bull ride with blow-up saguaros! There was also a mini-bungee-like thing where they were attached with rubber straps at the hips and they bounced on a trampoline very high in the air, a kid’s rock climbing wall, and a thing where kids went inside a clear plastic blow-up ball and then floated/ran in a pool of water, trying to bump into other kids. It looked fun. Someone described the kids coming out of it as as “loopy” because the only air they had to breathe was in the ball! Then we tried some honey liqueur in mini chocolate cups- very alcoholly (another new word) but yummy; I think I could only take it in small doses though.

We drove home and watched Date Night (better than we thought it would be) and Bad Company (not as bad as you would think for having Chris Rock and Anthony Hopkins). We finished off the rosé and cooked a chicken pasta for dinner.

All in all it was a great day.

Song of the day: Sunshine on My Shoulders by John Denver,

Friday, March 25, 2011

Health and Fitness.

Health: We are starting to come out of our (partial) survival mode when it comes to food. For breakfast we either have cereal or fried eggs and bacon or sausage (don’t judge!). We have tried to make pancakes out of crumpet mix, but they are not the same. My parents used to make pancake mixes from scratch- do any of you have a home-made recipe we can use? Sandwiches are quick and easy for lunch, and often better than what P finds on campus. We are starting to make a few more creative dinner dishes at home and are experimenting with some different cuts of meat on the braai (barbeque). We have tried making our own white sauce for pasta; the first time we added a cheese that did not melt or integrate well, so we made sure that we had the right kind of cheese for our second time, was much better.

Unfortunately, we have also been choosing what is easy. Because our schedule keeps adjusting to new pressures, we don’t always have what we need to cook or the evening is fast approaching and time is of the essence. We have ordered pizza here more than we normally would in Tucson, and we have also baked some frozen ones as well. The pizzas here are smaller, thin crust, and have less cheese on them, so they are not as bad as they could be! Little saving graces, right?  

One interesting thing is that my cheese addiction has morphed into a Cheas Naks addiction, which is probably worse. Those of you who know of my cheese addiction would be surprised that I have only had it on the pizza and in sandwiches. For the uniformed, Cheas Naks are the closest approximation to Cheetos that I can find. Posers such as Nik Naks need to disappear because the texture and taste is all wrong.

And chocolate... We share a chocolate bar almost every day. Why? Because we need to know which are the best ones here in SA. The only brands that are familiar are Snickers, M and M’s, and Kit Kats. We really enjoy the Cadbury brand's chocolate bars: Fruit and Nut and Cashew and Coconut are the best. I have never been much of a chocolate eater, but I’m having fun finding an excuse to partake several times a week. If we don’t have chocolate for dessert, we will have some vanilla ice cream with fresh mango or frozen raspberries. Yummy!

Fitness: Because our Discovery Health insurance began at the start of the month, we were able to join the Virgin Active gym at a deeply discounted rate through their Vitality program. We paid the start-up fee and from now on, only have to pay 20% of the monthly fee that most members have to pay. This gym is amazing. It is not too far away and has an incredible view of Devil’s Peak (the background picture on P’s blog shows it nicely). The gym has an olympic-sized indoor pool and cool machines like the Power Plate and Kinesis, neither which I have tried. One of the things that I have enjoyed most over the last three weeks has been the fitness classes- they have the most of any gym I have ever seen! I have not always attended gym classes regularly in the past, but I’m liking the ones I have gone to. I have tried several times the yoga, Pilates, intermediate step, Zumba, and belly dancing classes and have had fairly good experiences at them. I now realize how important the instructor quality is to the success of a class. The step class I went to last Saturday sucked so much because the teacher (whom I will not name) would not do the routine with us and we would get lost without his visual cues; he then yelled at us and stopped the music half-way through to berate us! It was so unprofessional and I will never take a class from him again. However, my Zumba teacher, Elroy, is AMAZING. I was speaking with someone after class and they told me that he has a “following” and I’m guessing it’s not only because he is a good instructor…he is hot! His moves are effortless and smooth, he indicates when he is transitioning to a new move, and he smiles like he is having fun. I think that I am now part of his following...sigh. My belly dancing teacher, Natasha, is also very striking and I enjoyed the 90 minute class this week so much that I decided to go to hers every week! And I’m also contemplating a 55 minutes that she has tomorrow at 8:30 a.m. Me getting up to exercise before 9:00 a.m; is that not a testament to how fun it is?!

Conclusion: Overall, we have actually lost weight since being here, contrary to your conclusions after reading the Health section of this post. We are eating less food than we used to and are going to the gym more regularly than we have been for the last few months. I have sometimes gone twice a day! That’s what a housewife in my position does, you know.

Also, Virgin Active is piloting a new “big brother” type program, at our location only, that helps you track your fitness indicators. They have machines that weigh you, do your blood pressure, and calculate your body fat percentage. They also give you suggested nutrition plans and workout schedules for your goals (of losing weight, getting healthy, or building strength). It’s pretty cool to use, when the machine is working.

Finally, I have also started keeping track again on The Daily Plate through the Live Strong website. You can set a goal weight and it will use your current weight, height, and activity level to calculate how many calories you should ingest a day to reach that goal. It has a huge database of store-brand foods and restaurant foods and it will break down what you ate and show what percentage of it was calories, fat, and protein. You can also log your fitness activities and adjust how many calories you have left that day to eat to stay within your goal. It is time intensive, but really opens your eyes to some of the things you eat. I've started paying attention to portion sizes and asking myself, is it worth it? You should check it out.

Peace out!

Song of the Post: Ice Cream by Sarah McLachlan.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Monthaversary One: Are we still waiting for our real life to begin?

It has been just over a month of living in Cape Town. Life is continually evolving here. When we first arrived, we did not have a car and we live on a big hill. We had to walk to get food and household goods and carry it all home. We did this every day and so little by little we got what we needed to be comfortable. We took minibus taxis everywhere to save money; we only rode in regular taxis twice. Now that we have been able to borrow a car, we have been revolutionized.

Learning to drive here has been tough. In the western USA, we are used to large, wide streets with roomy lanes. Here, the lanes are so narrow and cars are constantly swerving into your lane to avoid a stopped taxi or a car stopping to turn. Pedestrians add to the mix by playing roulette with their lives, walking against the light, not using crosswalks, and standing between lanes to let cars pass. Driving, initially was stressful with all these distractions and to top it all, having to manually drive a car where everything is flipped, such as the seat belt and stick shift. Now, driving is like second nature, and the roads, perceptually, do not seem as narrow as they first did. Weird, huh? Still, navigation is hard, and we are constantly using Google maps on our iPhones and the map book we bought in our first week. We have done some exploring to Betty’s Bay and Hout Bay. We got to see African Penguins and saw some baboons eating by the side of the road. We are starting to get to know various neighborhoods by going to places and asking people for their opinion. We are starting our initial search for another place and have tried to equate neighborhoods here to ones in Tucson. Would we live in slightly sketchy neighborhood in Tucson, probably not, so why would we here? The hard part is weighing it against distance to UCT and price of rent.

P at Gordon's Bay
We have gotten to meet new people, from South Africa and from the United States. Through a friend we actually met people from Tucson who live here. They are very welcoming and have given us many tips and links to South African web sites. The people here seem nice, but there are variations in ‘warmth’. The lady bagging our food at Pick N’ Pay jokes with us about liking “sour” limes. The couple we had dinner with a few days ago were great conversationalists.

Other parts of our lives are coming together. We joined a gym and we have been going regularly. I’ve taken several different classes here and am getting used to the emphasis on physical fitness that I have observed. And after noticing that Reeses was looking different, we took her to the Veterinarian on Main Road. We learned she is experiencing a false pregnancy, stemming from her last bout of heat. Not much to do but wait it out. She is lactating (not too much) and wants to be with us more than normal. She has not displayed any herding of small objects or nesting, thank goodness! On the job front, P’s learning how to “not to be grad student.” He is learning the ropes at this new job and if you ask me, doing superbly. I know it can't be easy starting a new job in a new country, supporting your entire family.

Me at Betty's Bay. Do you see the Penguins?!

And me, I’m learning to be a housewife. I really do not mind it right now, but I know that as our lives get more complicated here, my experience might change. I have never been good at housework, so I am feeling satisfaction from getting things done regularly. One perk is that I have gotten to read books, and not just listen to them on tape! 

Song of the Month:  Waiting for my real life to begin by Colin Hay. Listen here.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

UCT: Some observations and things I have learned about this place so far.

Ikey Tiger flirting on Jammie Steps.   (Image source)
  • UCT’s mascot, the “Ikey” Tiger was named many, many years ago when the school had a lot of Jewish students enrolled. The rival school, Stellenbosch, called the students “Isaacs,” which was then shortened to “Ikey.” It is pronounced like “icy” but with a “k” instead. (I was told this by someone trying to sell me something, so I’m not 100% sure it’s correct.)
  • The classes at UCT are 45 minutes, with a 15 minute passing period, again, maybe because the hill slows people down. Many students seem to use it as a time to socialize as well.
  • The students go to “University” or “Varsity,” not “College.”
  • According to my husband, faculty have “tea time” at 11:00 a.m. sharp every morning.
  • “Meridian” seems to be the word they use for a break lunch time here.
  • None of the students on UCT campus wear school paraphernalia- they do not advertise their school spirit. Please read my post on Style to envision what they are wearing instead. This is very different from the U of A student body, who bleeds red and blue! I saw a rugby game on television and finally saw some students with shirts, flags, and faces painted in support of UCT. You’re more likely to see a yellow and green jersey for the South African soccer team than for UCT.
  • “Jammie” stands for Jameson, and either refers to the “Jammie Steps” which are a huge meeting place for students to sit and hang out; or The “Jammie Shuttle” which is the transportation buses provided by UCT.

Song of the days: Wide Open Spaces by the Dixie Chicks. 

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Style: Some observations and things I have learned about this place so far.

  • Clothing: Girls at UCT wear flats most of the time, I have seen very few high heels on campus (or in town). Maybe it’s the big hill they have to climb to get to campus. The girls wear “flowy” clothing and short skirts and shorts. Often, girls dress as though they had a time warp to the late 1080’s and early 1990’s. Whenever the wind blows, you think you’re gonna get a glimpse of something naughty, but you never do! They do not generally emphasize their breasts. Guys seem to take more clothing risks, such as wearing more colors (pink, day-glo yellow, etc.), different casual styles (surfer, etc.) and wear flip flops. 
Exhibit A: 1980's or 90's? Note the shoes, rolled up shorts, shirt falling off one shoulder, the hair, and the purse.
  • Shoes: Most shoes are sandals and are thin, flat, and have no arch support- which is a problem for me as I am an old woman with the “Princess and the Pea” syndrome (I feel every bump and rock). The women love to wear bejeweled and beaded shoes and often have calluses and corns on their toes. Not many wear tekkies, or tennis shoes, which is what I traditionally live in most of the time. I might have to start branching out… You will also often see young people, mostly lighter skinned, walking barefoot on the sidewalks and into grocery stores. I keep wondering why they choose to do it- is it cool?
    Exhibit B: Flat shoes and flowy dress. Image source from "Embracing Style", a blog about SA style.
  • Heads: Out in the community I see more hats on women here and some women have short hair; female UCT students do not seem to choose short hair styles or pixie cuts (I have only seen two).
  • Clothing stores: Pick N’ Pay Clothing is marketed similarly as to Old Navy, which they do not have here. One of the brands they sell is in the store is Cherokee. The Gap does not have its own store, but it has several racks in an overpriced department store called Stuttafords. Esprite is alive and well here, even though the brand was discontinued in the states (at least in Tucson) over a decade ago. There are some stores that you would recognize, such as Build-A-Bear Workshop, Timberland, Billabong, Guess, Claire’s, Levi’s. There are stores here called called SissyBoy, Metrosexual, and Mr. Price. There are designer stores at the Waterfront and at Canal Walk that you would not find in Tucson, such as Louis Vuitton, Mango, Armani, Jimmy Choo, Burberry, Gucci, Pringle, and Max Mara.

Song of the Post, inspired by the clothing and theme of this song: Put Your Records On by Corinne Bailey Rae. 

    Wednesday, March 9, 2011

    Our House in pictures.

    The front of our house. The tree to the right is the frangipani/plumeria tree. Notice the bars on the windows- they're all on the inside (not the outside like in Tucson).
    The hallway and our phone. I like the colors and the floors. I hate the phone's ringer. That is a large mirror in the back.

    The Lounge (aka the living room). It is the first room on the left as you enter the front door. I love the bay window- it catches a lot of sunlight and the wind blows through it nicely. The couches are the most uncomfortable ones ever (many sore backs have been caused). Fire place not pictured.
    The guest bedroom. The first room to the right off of the front door. The pillows were stolen for use on our couches to lessen the back pain!
    Our bedroom. The second room on the right. Duvets and their covers are very big here.
    The dining room. The second room on the left. It has a fireplace and gets great morning light.
    The kitchen. The last door on the left. The stove is electric and the plates are flat metal discs (not coils). The fridge size is what would be considered "apartment sized" in the US. Because it is small and things go bad quickly here, we go to the grocery store almost every day for food. The owners are going to re-do almost everything! New cabinets, new window; hopefully new floors too!
    The bathroom. The last door on the left. The tile is falling apart; the owners are going to re-do it all and make it a shower stall, replace the window and the vanity. They will also add a medicine cabinet, which will mean that we won't have to use our travel cases for storage.
    The breakfast nook. Off of the kitchen. We do not use this room for anything, but it may become an office or craft room once we get our things.
    Our back patio. It has three levels, two of bricks, one of grass. Not pictured to the immediate left is our laundry room. The structure to the front and left (you can see the corner) is the guest house that is being rented to a grad student; we both use the same entrance.
    Our grassy back yard. It is enough of a yard for the dogs. It is a bit dry because it hasn't been watered this summer. The pink flowers you see are oleander.

    Well, I hope you've enjoyed the tour! It is the biggest place we have ever lived and because we do not have our things, it feels very empty and unlived in. Our lease agreement does not allow us to hang things on the walls, but I noticed that we have a picture rail in many of our rooms. Have any of you used on of these? How did it work? I’m hoping to add some variation to the yellow walls. We now have an updated estimate of our things arriving 08 April 2011. Another month of waiting! I think that it won’t really feel like home until we have our things around us. As I mentioned in some of the photo captions, the owners (UCT) are going to be re-doing several rooms, fixing floors, and painting inside and out. I’m getting worried that this is going to be a major problem for me/us. I will have to be here most of the day to let workers in and out and the dogs will be on alert all the time (as well as stuck inside!). One possibility that we have been considering is to move to another, long-term, place before most of the work begins and before our things arrive. I really can’t face more home construction, unpacking boxes and then moving in less than six months! But at the same time, I don’t want to rush into a lease agreement and not take our time finding the right place. What is your opinion?

    If you noticed, I asked questions in the post, hoping that you might answer. In the history of this blog, I have had over 250 views and only 14 comments posted. Please, please say something, even if it is just to say “hi, hello, or howzit.” We really need to feel as though we have not fallen off the face of the earth and been forgotten- so post comments on P’s blog too! Thanks in advance!


    Thursday, March 3, 2011

    Birthday Fun

    On 23/02/11 my husband turned a year older! Being new to the area and not wanting to be out too late, we settled for a nice lunch at the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront and then a braai at home.  Here is the lovely P, smiling as always, on a bridge in front of the Clock Tower.

    Here is a gigantic man built out of red Coca-Cola crates. 

    Red Man
     We ate a an Italian restaurant named Hildebrand. It was originally a German restaurant, and when an Italian family bought it in 1964, they decided to keep the name. P had a steak, his favorite, and I had a Chicken Caesar salad with a poached egg on top! Different sidewalk troups came by to entertain and ask for money. Some guys in leopard print did acrobatics; I did not have a good view, but P liked them. My favorite was an aging man who played acoustic versions of "No Woman No Cry" by Bob Marley, "Don't Worry, be Happy" by Bobby McFerrin and "Hello" by Lionel Richie. I gave him a tip at the end because he had put me in such a good mood!

    Then we rode The Wheel of Excellence, aka the Cape Town Eye, and we had some great views! I started to get my bearings more once I could see the land better. Some of these pictures might be blurry in places because the condensation from each gondola’s air conditioner drips down on top of each other as we go in a circle. The water also drops onto people walking below it (at first we thought we had been pooped on by a bird! lol).
    A gondola

    View of Table Mountain

    Looking out onto the Atlantic.
     All in all, we had a good day. It was definitely a low-key birthday. I hope he enjoyed it all the same!

     And a special treat (since I never post pictures of myself):

    Tuesday, March 1, 2011

    New Soul

         It’s hard to believe that we have lived here for almost two weeks! We have pretty much gotten into a routine, which was nice since we don’t have much structure in our lives at the moment. Structure, as in regular work hours, hobbies, the gym, television shows, or family to build our time around. We have woken up anywhere between 6:30 and 8:00, made coffee, and eaten breakfast, which always includes a fried egg. It’s funny to watch P get so mad if his yolk breaks- he interprets it as a personal failure. Then we read or get on the internet for a while. Occasionally a workman comes over to tinker on the house; this appointment is what we plan our whole day around sometimes. Around lunchtime we usually cook something, or we eat out while we are doing errands. In the evenings, we have either sautéed, stir-fried, or grilled something on the braai (charcoal grill). Then, more reading or puzzling while listening to music on our lap tops.
         This week, P will start to spend more time in his office (once he has internet up and running), leaving me at home more. I’m not sure how this is going to go for me without television and having to monitor how much time I spend on the internet. I also know NO ONE here and can’t make a lunch date, etc. In the states, I could probably figure out how to meet people, but here, I don’t know where those places are. I have never been very good at making friends; I can make good friends, but I can be shy and over think interactions with new people. I don’t feel instantly comfortable with people, like some people I know, so I don’t typically start conversations with total strangers. At school or through my job is how I have met people in the past, and right now, neither of those things are in my life. I hope they are soon. Any thoughts on how I can make friends in a strange, beautiful new land?
         Saying all this, I have not necessarily felt lonely but I don’t have much to occupy myself with, now that P is working. If I have felt lonely, it’s because I’m missing all of you back home and wish I could talk to you. Skype has a telephone feature that lets us call people from our computer to any cell or land line in the States for only 2.3 cents a minute. You might be getting some call from a weird “520” number, and it might just be us calling you (so save it in your phones when we call)! We tried it out this morning with my sister-in-law and niece and it worked well, better than using Skype (even when just using vocals and no video) because the other person does not have to be at a computer. This was the first time we have gotten to talk to anyone from back home. We are 9, nine, NINE!  hours ahead here, so it can be quite difficult to figure out the telephone thing; think about a time that works for you (and us) and let us know so that we can dial you up!


    These are the elegant flowers from a tree right outside our front door. 
    They smell delicious too! Does anybody recognize them?

     I will be trying to post pictures of our house soon, the images seem to take forever to upload.

    Love, M.

    Song of the days: New Soul by Yael Naim. Listen and watch here.